Wtih knowledge comes responsbility.

But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth — you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” – Romans 2:17-24 ESV

As a Jew, Paul had no qualms addressing his attention to his Jewish brothers and sisters. He was a former Pharisee and a passionate student of the Hebrew Scriptures. On one occasion, having been arrested in Jerusalem and accused of speaking out against the Jewish people and the temple, Paul addressed the crowd and said, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, and I was brought up and educated here in Jerusalem under Gamaliel. As his student, I was carefully trained in our Jewish laws and customs. I became very zealous to honor God in everything I did, just like all of you today” (Acts 22:3 NLT). In his letter to the Philippian believers, Paul had given his Hebrew credentials by stating, “I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin — a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault” (Philippians 3:5-6 NLT). So Paul knew what he was talking about when he addressed the attitudes and spiritual status of the Jewish people. Which is why he was able to say, “[you] rely on the law and boast in God and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law.” There was a certain degree of pride in their hearts related to their special designation as God’s chosen people. But this pride led to an arrogance and boastful certainty that they were above the fray, free from judgment and immune to God’s wrath. But Paul had already warned them that, “according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus” (Romans 2:16 ESV)

Yes, they were God’s chosen people. Yes, they had a unique relationship with Him and had been given His law, provided with the sacrificial system, and could brag about having the temple, where God’s presence dwelt. But Paul makes it clear that all of that is not enough. They relied on God. They boasted about their relationship with Him. They knew His will as revealed in the law and even taught others to obey it. They say themselves as guides to the blind, lights to those in darkness, instructors of the foolish and teachers of children. But the problem was that they were hypocrites. They failed to live up to their own standards. They demanded from others a strict adherence to the law that they themselves were incapable of keeping. In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, Isaiah 52:5 reads, “On account of you my name is continually blasphemed among the Gentiles.” Over the centuries, the actions of the Jews revealed a blatant disregard for God and His law. They were guilty of rebellion and unfaithfulness to His will and His ways. They boasted in the law, but dishonored God by breaking the law. They were without excuse. They had a knowledge of God, but what they knew about Him failed to turn into obedience to Him. Hundreds of years earlier, God had accused the people of Israel of their blatant hypocrisy. “These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote” (Isaiah 29:13 NLT). Even Jesus had quoted this same passage when addressing the Pharisees of His day. “So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’” (Matthew 15:6-9 ESV).

Knowledge can be a wonderful thing. The knowledge of God can be life-transformative. Knowing God’s Word can be beneficial to life. But there is a huge difference between knowing and doing. It was James who wrote, “But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves” (James 1:25 NLT). Knowing the law of God is useless if you fail to keep it. Having a encyclopedic understanding of God is worthless if you choose to ignore His will. The Jews were putting their hope and trust in their pedigree. They were counting on the fact that they were Jews. But Paul wanted them to know that their knowledge of God and their awareness of His law only made them more responsible and culpable. There were going to have to let go of all of that and place their trust in Christ. Back in his letter the Philippians, Paul follows up his impressive list of accomplishments as a Jew with the following words: “I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8 NLT). There is only one thing worth knowing: Jesus Christ as your Savior. It is an awareness of our own sin and our desperate need for a Savior that really counts. Every other form of knowledge is useless and worthless.

God judges. God justifies.

For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. – Romans 2:12-16 ESV

For Paul, sin is ultimately unrighteousness. It is man’s inability to live up to God’s righteous standard. Earlier, in chapter one, Paul wrote, “For the wrath of God is revealed form heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18 ESV). The unrighteous behavior of men, their refusal to live according to God’s divine requirements, suppresses the truth regarding who God is and what His expectations are for mankind. God created man to live in a right relationship with Him, in fellowship, enjoying unbroken companionship and walking in step with God’s revealed will. But man chose to do what was un-right. He chose to sin against God’s commands and take the direction of his life into his own hands. Eve believed the lie of the enemy and did what God had commanded her not to do, and her husband willingly followed her lead. And since that fateful day, men and women have continued to live unrighteously and ungodly, apart from God’s will. And as far as God in concerned, that includes all men, whether they had been given the Mosaic law or not. Paul makes it clear that both Jews and Gentiles stand before God as unrighteous. The Gentiles, or those “who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law” (Romans 2:12 ESV). They are without excuse, because they “show that they know his law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it” (Romans 2:14 NLT). All men instinctively know right from wrong. All cultures have laws or accepted moral standards against murder, cheating, stealing and a host of other “sins.” Paul says, “They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right” (Romans 2:15 NLT).

But the Jews are just as, if not more so, culpable. They have been given the law of God. God wrote it down on tablets of stone. He clearly articulated His righteous standards and requirements for morally acceptable behavior. He showed them exactly what was necessary to live righteous and godly lives. And Paul says, “all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law” (Romans 2:12 ESV). They will be judged by what they know but, ultimately, by what they do. “For merely listening to the law doesn’t make us right with God. It is obeying the law that makes us right in his sight” (Romans 2:13 NLT). The Jews had the law, but couldn’t keep it. They knew what was expected of them, but were incapable of living up to God’s righteous standards. So their lives were marked by unrighteousness, in spite of the fact that they had the law. The Gentiles were also condemned as unrighteous, because they couldn’t live up to the law of God written on their hearts – “their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right” (Romans 2:15 NLT).

So what’s the point? What is Paul trying to tell us? Remember, he is addressing the gospel of God in this letter. Paul is attempting to explain the divine nature of God’s redemptive plan for mankind – “the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16 ESV). The kind of righteousness God demands, Paul tells us, is only available through faith. It is not achievable through our own efforts, because as the Jews and Gentiles have clearly proven, no one can live up to the righteous demands of a holy God. “The righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17 ESV). Man inherently knows what is right. It is wired into his system. He knows instinctively what it is he should do and how he should live, but he lacks the ability to pull it off. It isn’t that he unaware of God’s expectations, it is that he is unable to live up to them. Later on in this same letter, Paul writes, “The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature” (Romans 8:3a NLT). Even when God gave the Jews His perfect, holy law, eliminating all doubt about what His expectations might be, they could not pull it off, because of their sinful natures. But here’s the good news: “So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins” (Romans 8:3b NLT). That is Paul’s point. That is the thesis of his entire letter. God did for man what man could not do for himself. He provided a means by which man could be justified, made right, with Him. And without faith in the saving work of the Son of God, no man, either Jew or Gentile, will be able to stand before God on the day of judgment. Their sins will condemn them. Even their most righteous acts will fail to measure up. The prophet Isaiah puts it bluntly. “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6 NLT). But again, Paul always balances the bad news with the good news. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV). Jesus Christ, the Son of God, “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25 ESV). We are made right with God, we are justified before a holy God, not based on our own human effort, but because of the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. And it is our faith in Him, not in our works, that leads to our salvation.

The Self-Delusion of Self-Righteousness.

 He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality. – Romans 2:6-11 ESV

In chapter two of Romans, Paul is addressing the Jewish community. In the first chapter he talked about the non-Jew or pagan, who stands before God as without excuse and guilty. They have had God’s “invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature” (Romans 1:20 ESV) clearly revealed to them and yet, they had refused to acknowledge Him as God. Instead, they had ended up worshiping the creation rather than the Creator, leading to God turning them over to their own foolish hearts, dishonorable passions, and debased minds. But as far as Paul was concerned, the Jews were no less culpable or free from guilt. In fact, they were so busy pointing their condemning fingers at he pagans, that they failed to see that they were guilty of the same sins they claimed not to commit. As descendants of Abraham and children of God, they considered themselves exempt from judgment. They somehow thought themselves to be immune from God’s wrath. But Paul warned them that, they too, were without excuse. They stood just as much condemned and guilty as the Gentiles who were outside the family of God. The self-righteous efforts of the Jews aimed at a holy God, were going to be no more helpful in the long run than the self-righteous actions of the Gentiles directed at their false gods. Paul accused the Jews of having hard and unrepentant hearts. They refused to admit their guilt and accept Jesus Christ as their Savior. So Paul warned them that “you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Romans 2:5 ESV). Not only that, the day was coming when God was going to render to each of them according to his works.

Paul is using the Old Testament Scriptures to indict them. He quotes from two different passages. The first is from Psalm 62:11-12: “and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love. For you will render to a man according to his work.” The second is from Proverbs 24:12: “Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?” The Hebrew Scriptures provided a strong understanding of the coming judgment of God. It would be based according to each man’s works. The expectation was righteousness – God’s brand of righteousness, not man’s. The requirement was perfection and nothing less. God had told the Israelites repeatedly, “For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. ” (Leviticus 11:44 ESV). Jesus had told the Jews of His day, “unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!” (Matthew 5:20 NLT). James put it in even more practical, if not demanding terms: “For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws” (James 2:10 NLT).

And Paul seems to give only two options for life, and both end in judgment. One is to live satisfying the self and disobeying the truth regarding God and His gospel offer. Those individuals will end up obeying unrighteousness and earning God’s full wrath and fury on the day of judgment. The other option is to life self-righteously, attempting to obey God’s law and earn a right standing with Him through your own efforts. And if you happen to pull it off, your reward on judgment day will be glory, honor, peace and immortality, while everyone else gets tribulation and distress. But is Paul saying we can earn our salvation by doing good deeds? Certainly not. He is showing that those who are sinners will be judged and condemned, but so will those who consider themselves to be righteous because of their own efforts. In the very next chapter Paul will make it clear that “all people, whether Jews or Gentiles, are under the power of sin” (Romans 3:9 NLT), and that “No one is righteous – not even one” (Romans 3:10 NLT). A little further on in that same chapter, Paul will introduce the sobering news, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 NLT).

So self-righteousness is no better than sinfulness. Attempting to do good things for God puts you in no better position than those who do bad things against God. God shows no partiality. Nobody gets to earn their way into His good graces. There is one way and one way only for men to be made right with God, and that is through the death of Jesus Christ. Paul goes on in chapter three to say, “all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24 NLT). That includes the Jew and the Gentile, the pagan and the pious, the selfish and the self-righteous. “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it” (Ephesians 2:8-9  NLT).

We can’t earn our salvation. None of us deserve God’s grace and mercy. The Jews were no better off than the Gentiles. They were sinners, condemned and unclean. Paul reminds us that at the foot of the cross, we’ll all equals when it comes to our guiltiness and our need for forgiveness. Which is why he wrote, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV). The greatest danger men face is to fall under the delusion of man-made righteousness. We will never be able to achieve our way into God’s presence or earn out way into His good graces. Which is why He sent His Son to live among us, model holiness right in front us, and die on behalf of us. “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT). 

If You Point Your Finger, You Missed the Point.

Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man – you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself – that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. – Romans 2:1-5 ESV

Paul was writing to the church in Rome and, like many of the churches in those days, it was made up of converted Gentiles and Jews. Chapter one seemed to be addressed to the former pagans or Gentiles. He wrote that he wished to come visit them so that he might “reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles” (Romans 1:13 ESV). He made it clear to them that, like all men, prior to their conversion, they had been without excuse. They had been given the natural or general revelation of God in His creation. He had made His “invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature” (Romans 1:20 ESV) clearly perceived to all men. Yet, like all men, they had rejected God’s revelation of Himself and had chosen to worship the creation rather than the Creator. And it had been the gospel that had revealed to them God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes. They had discovered that the kind of righteousness God requires was available only through faith in His Son. They had once been under God’s wrath for their dishonor and disregard of Him. They had been given up by God to reap the consequences of their darkened hearts and foolish choices. And the city of Rome was still filled with tens of thousands of people living according to “the lie.”

But now, Paul turns his attention to another group within the church. We might just describe them as the self-righteous religious snobs – those who were quick to consider themselves as better than the pagans Paul had described. More than likely, Paul was speaking directly to the Jews who had accepted Christ as their Savior and Messiah. When they heard Paul describe those whom God had given up, they more than likely excluded themselves from that list. They considered themselves God’s chosen people. They were descendants of Abraham, the recipients of the covenant and promises of God. But Paul makes it clear that, they too, are without excuse. In fact, to a certain degree, the Jews were even more culpable because they had been given special revelation from God. He had revealed Himself to Abraham. He had given His covenant promises to Abraham. He had rescued them out of captivity in Egypt. He had given them the law through Moses. He had provided for them the sacrificial system as a means of receiving forgiveness for their sins and to allow them to maintain a right relationship with Him. He had given them the tabernacle in the wilderness and the temple in Jerusalem as places where His holy presence would dwell and they could meet with Him. And yet, throughout their history, the Jews had continually sinned against Him. They had known, without a shadow of a doubt, that God existed and they were fully aware of His divine expectations on them, but they had been incapable of keeping God’s law or of remaining faithful to Him.

In spite of all of this, the Jews of Paul’s day had become self-righteous and prideful because of their unique relationship with God. Their attitude had become like that of the Pharisee in the parable that Jesus had told. “The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector!’” (Luke 18:11 NLT). Because they were descendants of Abraham, they somehow thought of themselves as better than the rest of humanity. But Paul warns them, “in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things” (Romans 2:1 ESV). They stood just as guilty as the pagans. They could not point their fingers and claim to be exempt from the list of sins listed in Romans 1:29-31. They could not afford to consider themselves as somehow better than the rest

We can’t forget the fact that this entire letter is ultimately about the gospel, “the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16 ESV). It is about “the righteousness of God … revealed from faith for faith” (Romans 1:17 ESV). Paul’s whole point in these opening chapters of his letter is to prove that no one stands before God as righteous. They are all without excuse, whether they are Gentiles or Jews. In fact, a little later on in his letter, Paul writes, “Well then, should we conclude that we Jews are better than others? No, not at all, for we have already shown that all people, whether Jews or Gentiles, are under the power of sin. As the Scriptures say, ‘No one is righteous – not even one’” (Romans 3:9-10 ESV). Righteousness is not man-made, it is God-given. It is based on faith, not works. It has nothing to do with human merit, but on God’s mercy and grace. Paul wanted the Jews to know that they had been recipients of God’s kindness, forbearance and patience. The fact that they still existed as a people had to do with God’s covenant promises, not their faithfulness or righteousness. He had continually rescued them from their own self-destructive tendencies in order that He might fulfill His promise to send the Messiah as a descendant of David. And when Jesus had showed up on the scene as the Messiah, He had called the people of Israel to repentance. And Paul says that God’s kindness, in the form of the Messiah was meant to lead them to repentance. Yet Paul has to tell them, “But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath” (Romans 2:5 ESV). Why? Because the Jews were failing to recognize their own sinfulness and their need for a Savior. In pointing their finger at the sins of the pagans, they were missing the whole point. No one is righteous, no, not one.

No God. No righteousness.

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 1:28-32 ESV

This is the third time Paul uses the phrase, “God gave them up.” By this time, we should be able to see the seriousness of Paul’s point. If God releases men to live as they wish to live, separated from Him by rejecting His very existence or re-imagining their own version of Him, the outcome is less-than-ideal. Without God, the one true God, man is left to his own devices, and their foolish hearts become increasingly darkened. Despite their self-proclaimed wisdom, they become fools, incapable of discerning right from wrong, righteousness from unrighteousness. The prophet Isaiah wrote about these kinds of people in his day.

What sorrow for those who drag their sins behind them with ropes made of lies, who drag wickedness behind them like a cart! (Isaiah 5:18 NLT).

What sorrow for those who say that evil is good and good is evil, that dark is light and light is dark, that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter. What sorrow for those who are wise in their own eyes and think themselves so clever. (Isaiah 5:20-21 NLT).

When a man decides he has no need of God, he loses far more than his awareness of the Creator. The rejection or reinvention of God is a dangerous game to play. The NIV translates verse 28 this way: “since they did not think it worth while to retain the knowledge of God.” They basically said, “We don’t need God.” So God allowed them to experience life without Him. He “gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.” Without God in their lives, they lose the capacity to think wisely. As Isaiah said, they end up calling evil good and good evil. Their minds become twisted and their logic becomes skewed. And Paul states that they become “filled” with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, and malice. They become, literally, “filled to the brim.” Unrighteousness describes anything that is contrary to what God has deemed right or just. Evil has to do with man living out his godless purposes and desires in depraved ways. Covetousness is simply greed or the insatiable need for more. It is the opposite of contentment. Malice is a shameless desire to do harm to others. These characteristics fill those who reject God, and they end up manifesting themselves in a variety of ways. Paul provides us with a fairly sobering list: “envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness, gossiping, slander, hate for God, insolence, haughtiness or pride, boasting, invention of evil, disobedience to parents, foolishness, faithlessness, heartlessness, and ruthlessness.”

And here’s the worst part. Not only do they do these things. They give their full consent and approval to anyone else who does them too. Even though they know “that those who practice such things deserve to die,” they do them anyway. They become driven by unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, and malice. It ends up filling them and overflowing out of them. It was Chrystostom who said, “the one who praises the sin of others if far worse than the one who sins himself” (Chrystostom, Homilies on Romans). Paul warned Timothy that a day was coming when people would not want to hear the truth anymore. They would look for teachers who would approve or their actions and tell them that their lifestyles were perfectly acceptable. “For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4 ESV). The Greek word Paul used for myths is mythos and it refers to something that is invented, a fiction or falsehood. Without God, men will invent their own form of righteousness. They will determine their own ethical and moral standards. And then they will seek out those who will tell them their unrighteous actions are acceptable. That is the world in which we live today. Sadly, there are pastors all across the country who are more than willing to tickle the ears of their congregations, telling them what they want to hear, approving of their lifestyle choices and, as a result, denying the truth of God.

We live in a day when the cry for tolerance has drowned out God’s call for righteousness. We have become accepting and accommodating of all kinds of attitudes and actions that God has deemed unrighteous and unacceptable. It is not loving to allow someone to live according to a lie. It is not merciful to hide the truth from someone who is deceived. It was Jesus who said, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:21-32 NLT). The gospel of God is about the righteousness of God made available to men through the gift of His Son. Left to his own devices, man will never achieve or accomplish the degree of righteousness that God demands. Even those who claim to believe in God, the religious, will fail in their efforts to live up to God’s righteous standards. That is why Paul says that all men are without excuse. All stand before God as guilty. But the good news is that Jesus came to die for sinners. He came to pay the price for our guilt and to free us from condemnation. But for a man to be free, he must accept the truth of his own sin and the gift of God’s Son. He must understand the reality of his guilt and the just outcome of his sin: death. Then he must accept the free gift of God’s grace and believe that Jesus Christ has paid his debt and replaced his unrighteousness with righteousness. That is the good news. That is the gospel of God.

Left To Our Own Devices.

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. – Romans 1:26-27 ESV

What happens when man abandon the truth of God for “the lie?” The lie is, in essence, that God does not exist at all or that He exists according to man’s invention. And if the one true God does not exist at all or exist as He truly is, then man is left to create his own order of things and his own laws for life. Three times in this section of Romans 1, Paul uses the phrase, “God gave them up.” Paul is attempting to demonstrate what life looks like when God releases men to pursue and believe “the lie.” Thinking themselves to be wise, their foolish hearts become darkened, and they lose any ability to make decisions based on the wisdom and righteousness of God. In this condition, they find themselves believing and practicing practically anything. “Those who turned against God turned everything on its head. For those who forsook the author of nature could not keep to the order of nature” (Pelagius, Commentary on Romans). Paul refers to women who “exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature” and he mentions men who “gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another” (Romans 1:26-27 ESV). There are those today who would like to write this off as simply the opinion of Paul. There are others who attempt to explain away what Paul says by insinuating that he is only speaking against “improper” homosexual acts, not the act itself. Still others want to believe that Paul is only referring to homosexual acts that were taking place in the context of pagan worship. But these are not the words of Paul. They are the words of God. They are part of the powerful explanation Paul has provided in this letter regarding the gospel of God. Men are without excuse. They have abandoned the truth about God and His will for mankind. They have ignored God’s clear revelation of His invisible attributes and divine nature in His creation. Rather than worship God, they have ended up worshiping anything and everything but God. And Paul makes it painfully clear that what sinful man always ends up doing is distorting the truth of God. They exchange the natural for the unnatural, what is right for what is wrong, the holy for the unholy, the will of God for the will of self. They become consumed with passions – all kinds of passions, both good and bad. But the time comes when they can no longer tell the difference. The lines become blurred. Their consciences become seared. They lose the ability to discern right from wrong, and even become rabid defenders of their actions and attitudes.

It doesn’t take a biblical scholar to read the words of God recorded in Genesis 1 and to reach a conclusion. “So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Then God blessed them and said, ‘Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it’” (Genesis 1:27-28 NLT). They were to bear fruit, to multiply their kind. That is why God created them as a male and female. It was together, as man and woman, that they were to fulfill the command of God. Adam could not do it alone. Eve was incapable of multiplying by herself. God built into nature and into their physiology, the ability to live within His will. But man, in his sin, has determined a “better way,” a preferred way. Natural passions end up being replaced by unnatural, ungodly passions. Paul calls them “dishonorable passions.” The Greek word he uses is atimia and it is very graphic in nature. It was “used of the unseemliness and offensiveness of a dead body” (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). It was also used to refer to the dishonorable use of a vessel or container. Bodies are meant to have life. A dead body is unnatural and offensive to our senses. It is lifeless and no longer operating as it was intended to. The same thing is true of those who are consumed with passion for those of the same sex. They are no longer operating as God intended them to. Their acts are unnatural and against the ordained will of God.

But in our day and age, any attempt to make this claim is met with disdain, hatred, cries of bigotry and intolerance, and a violent defense of individual rights and freedoms. But, according to Paul, we should not be surprised. Their foolish hearts are darkened. The claim to be wise, boasting in their enlightened understanding and progressive comprehension of all things moral and ethical. But they are fools. They have “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man” (Romans 1:23 ESV). Of course, Paul was referring to idol worship here, but the real issue is that of man-worship. When the best expression we can come up with for God’s revealed power and divine nature is the image of man, we are in trouble. When we make a god out of man, we end up worshiping ourselves. And we sacrifice truth at the altar of our own corrupt passions and desires. Self-satisfaction and self-gratification consume us. God releases us to pursue our increasingly perverse passions.

We must not lose sight of the fact that Paul is attempting to explain and expound upon the gospel of God. The good news of Jesus Christ must be displayed against the backdrop of man’s darkened state of sin. Paul is going to show that man is in trouble. Apart from God, things will always for from bad to worse. In Paul’s estimation, it doesn’t matter if you’re pagan or pious, immoral or a moral icon of virtue. Without God’s glorious gospel, all men will ultimately receive “the due penalty for their error” (Romans 1:27 ESV). Man without God is hopeless. Man, left to his own devices, will always gravitate toward ungodliness and unrighteousness. But the gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed” (Romans 1:16-17 ESV).

Buying Into “The Lie”.

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. – Romans 1:24-25 ESV

This whole section of Romans 1 has to do with the truth versus the lie. In these verses, Paul says that man has “exchanged the truth of God for a lie”, or literally, “the lie”. To understand this passage we have to define what Paul had in mind with these two terms. What is the truth of God? What is it that man, in his unrighteousness, has suppressed (vs 18)? God has revealed His eternal power and divine nature to man through His creation. So they are without excuse. Nature virtually screams the reality or truth regarding the existence of God. The very fact that men have ended up worshiping the creation rather than the creator simply shows that man recognizes some more powerful source outside of himself, but has chosen to exchange “the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:23 ESV). The truth to which Paul is referring in chapter one is the reality of God’s existence. “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them” (Romans 1:19 ESV). Because man has rejected the truth regarding the existence of God, it is virtually impossible for him to accept the need for a Savior sent from God for his salvation. Ignorance or disbelief in God’s existence ultimately leads to a refusal to accept any kind of divine standard for moral conduct. Morality becomes highly subjective and relativistic. Each man ends up doing what is right in his own eyes. As a result, they begin to believe “the lie”, either rejecting that God exists at all or replacing the truth about God for something or someone else. Rather than honoring Him as God and giving Him thanks for all that He has done for them, they turn their attention elsewhere, relying on their own wisdom to explain their existence and to determine their conduct.

So God gives them up. That sounds like such a harsh statement. It comes across as some form of divine abandonment. The Greek word is paradidōmi and it means “to give into the hands (of another)” or “to give over into (one’s) power or use”. In a way, this simply means that God releases them to pursue and believe “the lie”. He allows men to rely on their own wisdom and darkened hearts. His wrath is less active in this sense, than passive. He allows them to reap what they sow. Paul had this idea in mind when he wrote to the believers in Galatia. “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7-8 ESV). Three times in this section of Romans 1, Paul uses the phrase, “God gave them up”. In these two verses, God gave them up to impurity. The rejection of the truth regarding God’s existence will ultimately lead to a false conclusion that man is the ultimate arbiter of his own fate. It is the wisdom of man, apart from God, that leads to things like genocide, infanticide, abortion, and virtually all forms of sexual sin and perversion. Highly intelligent people can commit and justify highly immoral acts. Humanism, as a philosophy of life, is destructive. It can be define as “a variety of ethical theory and practice that emphasizes reason, scientific inquiry, and human fulfillment in the natural world and often rejects the importance of belief in God” (Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition).

Man ends up worshiping and idolizing man. But at the end of the day, all men are inherently selfish and self-centered. Even our best attempts at living altruistic lives end up being self-serving. When you make man the center of your world, it is difficult, if not impossible, to keep from making that world revolve around yourself and your individual wants and desires. You end up doing what is right in your own eyes, and find yourself serving the creature rather than the creator. Not only do you dishonor God, but you eventually dishonor your own body, doing with it things that God never intended or approved, fulfilling the lusts of your own heart. God releases you to reap what you sow. He allows you to experience the negative outcomes of your own myopic and narcissistic lifestyle choices.

We see the reality of these verse all around us. Highly education and intelligent men and women living God-less lives in which they have made themselves the sole focus of their worship and attention. Mankind has made a habit out of rejecting the one true God and coming up with their own version of the truth. They exchange the truth about God for the lie. And the lie always leads do destruction. Paul is going to outline some serious consequences of living according to the lie. When we read the following verses we tend to focus on one particular sin, but Paul has a much broader view in mind when it comes to man’s belief in the lie. He describes those who reject the truth of God and accept the lie as “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” (Romans 1:29-31 ESV). Sound familiar? It should. That is the world in which we live. Paul says, “since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God have them up to a debased mind to do what out not to be done” (Romans 1:28 ESV). And this is what they reaped. A life lived without God is not a pretty picture. Buying into the lie results in some serious consequences. Any man, left to himself, allowed by God to pursue his own way, will ultimately live a life marked by godlessness and unrighteousness.

Too Smart For Our Own Good.

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. – Romans 1:21-23 ESV

Wise fools. The world is full of them and always has been. Paul describes them as futile in their thinking. The Greek word Paul uses is mataioō and it can mean “to passively become foolish, or to become idolatrous.” Paul says they are without excuse because they have had every opportunity to honor or recognize the existence and reality of God, who has revealed Himself through His creation. “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” (Romans 1:20 ESV). These kinds of people indict themselves because they all end up worshiping something or someone. They may not call it worship, but they esteem or honor other things, giving them the place of prominence in their lives that belongs to God alone. Some end up worshiping man, making humanity to end-all-be-all of our existence. They believe we are our own savior. Others worship science, placing all their hope and trust in reason and man’s ability to solve all of the world’s problem through scientific research and development. We can end up worshiping political parties or governmental policies. Elevating men or man-made ideas to a god-like status in our lives has been the lot of humanity since the fall. That was the original temptation of the serpent in the garden. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5 ESV).

Paul makes it painfully clear that all men know God. They sense the existence of something bigger and greater than what they can see. Creation virtually shouts that there is something or someone out there, the first cause behind all that we see. Ancient man knew that there was something out there. That’s why they created idols. That’s why they worshiped the sun, moon, stars, animals, nature and every other created thing. But modern man is more sophisticated than that. Our idols are more subtle and sensible. We wouldn’t dream of worshiping the sun. But we will worship the Big Bang Theory. We will go out of our way to concoct every possible explanation for our existence, while refusing to accept the idea that God exists. Claiming to be wise, we become fools, self-deceived and sadly mistaken in our conclusions. We end up exchanging the glory of the immortal God for a cheap, but seemingly plausible replacement.

Paul insists that man’s persistent attempt to explain away God has left him with a darkened heart. What was once clearly visible to them, the invisible attributes of God, has become cloudy and veiled. Man has lost the ability to sense God’s presence and power. This has left him with the nagging need to explain his existence and make sense of a world that continues to spiral out of control, despite all our scientific advances, modern conveniences, and moralistic efforts. We keep hoping and believing that we can make the world a better place. We have made vast improvements in communication, transportation, medicine, education and agricultural production. Yet the world remains plagued by hatred, disease, famine, ignorance, and inequities in all their hideous forms. We have been able to make advances in everything except the state of man’s heart. We can help him live longer, but we are incapable of making him live better. Human reason will never come up with a way to deal with sin. Science will never come up with a solution to the problem of the human heart. In our wisdom, we have become fools.

And  yet, in the midst of all of mankind’s arrogance and pride, God sent His Son. Paul calls it the gospel, “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16 ESV). In the gospel, the righteousness of God has been revealed. What God expects of humanity has been made known through His Son coming to earth as a man and living a sinless life. Jesus did what no other man had been able to do since Adam. He lived in perfect obedience to the law of God. And it was His sinless life that made Him the perfect sacrifice to pay for the sins of man. He died so that man might live. He gave His life so that we would not have to give ours. The death of Jesus was what God required so that men might be made right (righteous) with Him. And this righteousness is only available by faith. Not by reason. Not by scientific explanations or experiments. Not through human effort or any amount of seemingly moral advancements.

Man, apart from God, is helpless, hopeless, blind, ignorant, and spiritually dead. Even his best efforts on his best day are flawed and, ultimately, worthless. As the prophet Isaiah so aptly put it, “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind” (Isaiah 64:6 NLT). Man has become to smart for his own good. His intelligence has left him unable to honor God or give Him thanks. He is determined to come up with his own explanation for his existence and his own plan for his future. But in the end, all men must face the reality of God’s existence. God doesn’t go away because we attempt to explain Him away. He doesn’t cease to exist simply because our intelligence refuses to accept Him. God has revealed Himself in His creation. He has made Himself known through His written Word. And He has given men the means by which they can know Him personally and permanently through His Son. But the knowledge of God is ultimately available as a result of faith, not wisdom.

The Wrath of God.

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. – Romans 1:18-20 ESV

In verse 17, Paul states that the gospel reveals the righteousness of God from faith for faith. That word, “reveals” in the Greek is apokalyptō and it means to make known what was once hidden. So Paul is saying that the way to achieve righteousness, which was at one time hidden or unknown to men, is through faith. Faith in the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. That is why he says, “The righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17 ESV). This new or formerly hidden means to getting right with God was revealed through the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In other words, through the gospel. Now, in verse 18, Paul unveils another once-hidden mystery. The gospel also revealed the wrath of God. He states, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” In the gospel, the good news regarding salvation through Jesus Christ, we also see the wrath of God poured out. Jesus’ excruciating death on the cross is both a picture of God’s love and wrath – at the same time. Isaiah, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, wrote of the coming Messiah:

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

Peter referred to this passage when he wrote, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24 ESV). The full extend of God’s hatred of sin was revealed on the cross. The innocent died for the guilty. The sinless One had to pay the price for the sinful. God died for the godless. In order for men to be made right with God, He had to pay the ultimate price and sacrifice His own Son. Jesus came to die. His death was the only means by which the wrath of God could be satisfied, the sins of man could be forgiven and righteousness could be achieved. Later on in this same letter, Paul asks a somewhat rhetorical question: “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?” (Romans 9:22-24 ESV). God would have been completely just and right if He had chosen to destroy all mankind, because all men are guilty of having rebelled against Him. They were all vessels of wrath prepared for destruction. But instead, God chose to pour out His wrath on His own Son, in order that men might be saved from destruction. Some have described that idea as divine child abuse. They struggle with the idea that God would kill His own Son, even though it was for a good cause – to redeem millions upon millions of people. But God knew what man couldn’t know – that a restored relationship with Him was impossible without His help. Man could never live up to God’s righteous standard. Man was totally incapable of producing the kind of righteousness God required. That’s why Jesus told His followers, “unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 5:20 NLT). That statement from the lips of Jesus did not come across as good news to His audience. It sounded like mission: impossible. But that was His point. Their righteousness was going to have to come from a source other than themselves. It was going to have to be the righteousness of God that had been revealed from heaven in the form of Jesus Christ.

But while the gospel is good news, you can’t have good news without bad news. And the bad news is that God hates sin and has to punish it. He cannot tolerate or overlook sin. Mankind is inherently ungodly and unrighteous, and in their state of unrighteousness, they suppress or hold back the truth. This doesn’t mean they in some way restrain or the truth of God, but their actions deny the reality of the holiness of God and His expectation that His creation reflect that holiness. Paul goes on to say that they are without excuse. God has revealed Himself to them through His creation – “his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world” (Romans 1:20 ESV). The very existence of idols throughout the history of mankind lends credence to Paul’s statement. The human race has always recognized the existence of a greater power outside of our everyday experience. Men reveal the reality of God in their built-in need to worship someone or something. Martin Luther writes, “This demonstrates that there was in their hearts a knowledge of a divine sovereign being. How else could they have ascribed to a stone, or to the deity represented by stone, divine attributes, had they not been convinced that such qualities really belong to God!” (Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans).

So man is without excuse. But man is not without hope. While the full extent of God’s wrath was revealed on the cross and poured out on His Son, His love was also made known. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 ESV). God’s wrath was satisfied by Jesus. But men must accept God’s gift of His Son. They must rely on the payment made by Jesus to provide for them the righteousness they could never earn on their own. But John goes on to tell us the sad, but true reality. “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19 ESV). Men can choose to accept the love of God or remain under the wrath of God. He has provided a way of escape. But all men must choose to accept or reject it.

The Power of God.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” – Romans 1:16-17 ESV

Paul was eager to preach the gospel to the people in Rome. That is why he wanted to make the long, arduous journey there. He was grateful to God for those who had already become followers of Jesus and commended them for their faith. But he knew that there were many more who had not yet hear the good news regarding God’s gift of salvation through His Son. And Paul was anything but ashamed of that message. He proclaimed it anywhere and everywhere he could to anyone who would listen, whether they were Jews, Greeks or even barbarians. Because he knew that the gospel had the power to change lives. It was the one and only way for sinful men to be made right with a holy God. For Paul, the gospel – the message regarding God’s sending of His Son in the form of a man to live a sinless life and die a substitutionary death on the cross as payment for the sins of men – was powerful and life-changing. He knew from personal experience. He had been radically changed by his side-of-the-road encounter with the resurrected Christ. And that same power was available to any and all who would believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior. In other words, they had to give up trying to earn a right standing with God in their own strength or according to their own merit.

Paul wasn’t ashamed of the gospel because he knew it worked. He knew it was of God. In fact, it had been God’s plan from the very beginning. His sending of Jesus to earth was not some kind of plan B that He was forced to quickly come up with in response to man’s inability to keep the Law. He had planned all along to send a Savior, and it had to be His very own Son so that He could meet the stringent requirements of a sinless sacrifice. Peter tells us, “God chose him as your ransom long before the world began, but he has now revealed him to you in these last days” (1 Peter 1:20 NLT). Paul goes as far as to say, “Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes” (Ephesians 1:4 NLT). The gospel is not only the plan A of God, it is the very power of God that leads to man’s salvation. “For in it (the gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith”, Paul states (Romans 1:17 ESV). Because of what Jesus did on the cross, man has access to a righteousness he could have never achieved on his own. The law could only reveal God’s holy standard, but it couldn’t help man achieve or live up to it. And Jesus told His followers, “But I warn you – unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!” (Matthew 5:20 NLT). As shocking as this statement must have been to those who heard it, Jesus was simply telling them that the righteousness God required could never be man-made. It was going to have to be the result of the power of God as revealed in the gospel.

Man’s salvation is based solely on faith. It begins and ends on faith. It is our initial faith in Christ that leads to our growing faith in the power of the gospel to not only save us, but transform us into His image. The righteous, Paul says, live by faith. Our righteousness is based on faith. Later in this letter, Paul states, “We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are” (Romans 3:22 NLT). He reiterates this same thought in his letter to the church in Corinth. “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT). The gospel, the good news regarding salvation in Christ, reveals the righteousness of God – the very means by which sinful men and women can be justified or made right with God. It is through His Son’s death. And it is confirmed by God’s power that raised Him from the dead. It would not have been enough for the death of Jesus to forgive us our sins and leave us in a sinless state. Sinlessness is not the same as righteousness. Once our sins had been paid for and forgiven, we still needed to be declared righteous. But in order to do this, God had to impute or transfer to our account the righteousness of Christ. So our spiritual account went from having a negative balance to a zero balance, but then God added to our account the invaluable righteousness of Christ.

The reason so many of us find ourselves “ashamed” of the gospel is because it sounds so far-fetched, even to us. After all the idea of God sending His own Son to take on human flesh, live a sinless life and die as our sacrifice on a cross doesn’t exactly come across as logical or sensible. It can also come across as offensive to those with whom we share it. Telling someone that they are a sinner, completely unrighteous and incapable of pleasing God in any way can be a bit off-putting to say the least. But Paul was unashamed of the gospel because he knew it was the only way. It was the power of God made practical and personal, providing mankind with a fail-proof means by which they could be restored to a right relationship with God. The righteous, those who have been made right with God through Christ, were saved by faith and live their lives based on faith – in the power of God.