In the last post we finished by talking about how the righteous will live by faith and how we are made righteous not by our own power and ability but by God (Rom 1:17-18). That is a very humbling verse because it takes the control out of our hands and places them in God’s. Paul spends the next several verses talking about people who have done the opposite – tried to take control from God and the need for faith and changed it into living for what man desires rather than by faith. In doing so, something else is revealed – the wrath of God. Paul writes about a revealing from God and how a rebellious mankind has rejected what God has revealed and has in its place accepted darkness and foolishness.
We all know that it is wise to be guided by light. To walk in the darkness is to subject our health to some serious health risking missteps that might even result in death in certain situations. The grave reality of what Paul is writing about here is that God has done a lot of revealing and mankind has rejected it.
Romans 1:20 – In the beginning or since the beginning God has made himself known through the creation.
Romans 1:25 – Mankind exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped created things (idolatry) rather than the Creator.
Romans 1:19 – The things of God have been made plain to mankind.
Romans 1:18 – Mankind suppresses the truth about God and as a result God reveals something else – His wrath (1:18).
Romans 1:17 – In the Gospel a righteousness from God is revealed.
The question for us and for these Christians in Rome is how then are we to live in light of the truth revealed by God through the Gospel (D,B,R of Jesus Christ and God’s intention to renew and restore us back into proper relationship with himself)? The answer is that the Righteous will live by faith (Rom 1:17 & Hab 2:4).
Things in this world are not as they are designed to be:
The rest of Romans 1 is basically saying mankind has messed things up. They have changed things and perverted things. Mankind has distorted things and not just those nameless and faceless pagans over there somewhere but we have been guilty as well.
They changed the intention of what God’s revealing of the truth was supposed to do – It was supposed to expose in their lives their need for God, the reality of sin, and an acceptance of the truth. Instead Paul writes, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, (the response through faith that is designed to happen when we are exposed to the truth of the Gospel) but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” God intended to reveal (the word reveal comes from the same word as the word “light” = illuminate/shine light on) himself so that mankind would believe but instead they became fools with darkened hearts. That is not how things were intended to be!
Paul continues in verse 23 “and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.” Where else in scripture do we read about the word “image”? Gen 1:26 tells us we are made in God’s image. That is the original intention for mankind – to resemble God. But when mankind rejects God, things are no longer how they were designed to be and an exchange takes place. When we worship another (idolatry but not necessarily of objects of wood or stone but also materialism, sex, pride, arrogance, or any of a number of still relevant “gods”) we exchange the way things were designed to be, the way God wants them for the way we want things to be. Paul says that is foolish and dark and ignorant and in the end it leads to death (1:32). The sad thing is, Paul continues in 1:32 to write that they “know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death.” That has to be one of the saddest verses in all of scripture. Those who knew better didn’t care. They even knew the result would be death and they didn’t care. They would rather have their way for a time and pay the piper another day.
This change/exchange language is at the heart and soul of why Paul decided to use homosexuality as an example of how mankind has rejected the way God designed things to be. I cannot say it any better than N.T. Wright so I will quote him on this one,
His point is, ‘this is not what males and females were made for’…His point is not ‘there are some exceptionally wicked people out there who do these revolting things’ but ‘the fact that such clear distortions of the creator’s male-plus-female intention occur in the world indicates that the human race as a whole is guilty of a character-twisting idolatry’. He sees the practice of same-sex relations as a sign that the human world in general is out of joint.” (Wright, Paul for Everyone: Romans, 22-23)
It is important that we don’t gloss over this passage without taking a serious inventory of our lives. The very fact that sin can lead God to give people over to their own lusts and desires (1:24) should be alarming to us and open our eyes to the consequences of the habits, behaviors, and attitudes we have adopted. It is easy to point the finger at the world and say, “You bash those pagans Paul!” without taking a good look in the mirror only to see that we are guilty as well. How much worse is it to know better and to know the consequences and to go ahead and do it anyway (1:32)? God’s people should be the first to take sin seriously and to recognize just how ugly it is because, “The righteous will live by faith.”