Sermon on Romans 1:18-32, preached on Sunday, 28 Oct 2018.
Sermon Recording: Click HERE to Listen
Bible Readings: (OT) Jeremiah 10:12-25 / (NT) Romans 1:18-32
I. Ingratitude – People are thankless
II. Insolence – People become fools
III. Idolatry – People worship idols
IV. Impurity – People indulge in wickedness
When we say ‘gospel,’ we mean ‘good news.’ The word, gospel, is derived from ‘godspell,’ denoting ‘glad tidings’ or ‘good news’ which is a translation of the Greek word, ‘euangelion.’ One of this word group we’re familiar with is ‘angel,’ in Greek, ‘angelos,’ which means ‘messenger’ who brings news. News that cheers people is good news. But no good news lasts forever, except the news of Jesus Christ who saves the repentant and believing sinners. By Jesus’ salvation, these sinners who deserve God’s judgment and eternal damnation are delivered from the impending wrath of God. So, the news of Jesus is good news that lasts eternity. This alone is the good news.
Strangely, however, the good news of Jesus is bad news to the ears of sinners. It offends and hurts. Not pleasant to hear that they deserve a due punishment for their sins. Strange though it may seem, the good news of Jesus is bad news to sinners. And the gospel of Jesus begins as bad news to the ears of God’s elect! We heard about this last Sunday. So, what is required of us who deliver Jesus’ gospel, the news of His saving grace, is the mindset of sower – we sow the seed of Jesus’ gospel and let the sun and rain from heaven, that is, God’s mercy and power, sprout and grow it in the hearts of people.
So, this bad news is necessary for salvation. That’s why I called it last week ‘bad news that saves.’ But, this bad news is not only for the sinners to hear and be saved from damnation, but also for all saved children of God to hear and be reminded of two things – first, our former sinful status, thus, to give thanks to the Lord and, second, our remaining sinful, fleshly nature so that we may seek more grace of our Lord and His protection from being tempted by sin. So, hearing how bad and sinful men are, thus, deserving death shouldn’t be stressful to us at all. Rather, hearing it should add more joy to the believing hearts because by faith we no longer are lost in sin, but found in Jesus! Hearing the bad news about mankind comforts our hearts and, at the same time, challenges us to share it with as many sinners as possible so that this joy and comfort in Jesus could be shared with all repentant sinners!
By the way, the bad news about mankind is that the whole world, everyone in this world, is sinful before God! Our text passage indicts the fallen mankind on four charges, namely, ingratitude, insolence, idolatry and impurity. Let’s see each of these charges.
I. INGRATITUDE – PEOPLE ARE THANKLESS
The first charge is ‘ingratitude.’ People are thankless toward their Creator. This is similar to but incomparably serious than the sin of denying and despising one’s own parents. This is, in fact, the gravest sin. God revealed Himself to man through creation, thus, everything that is created clearly reveals the wisdom and power of God. So, the psalmist sings in Ps. 19:1, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork.” V. 20 of our text passage also says, “For [God’s] 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.” What is revealed through His creation is good enough for all men to bow to God in deep and endless gratitude. All men and women know by instinct that they must give all glory to God the Creator. But they give no appreciation, they’re ungrateful to Him. All people in their natural status – in other words, without God’s saving grace – suppress the truth about God revealed to them from without – that is, from the creation – and from within – that is, from their own conscience; they do not allow this truth to work in their lives. “So,” says the end of v. 20, “[people] are without excuse.” People’s ingratitude is the first and most serious charge the holy and righteous word of God files.
This indictment for man’s ingratitude to God is grave because God is above all things, worthier than all things that exist. Taking for example, try to guess that your child you’ve reared with love and care all through your life ignores you completely, despising you thoroughly. Such a betrayal would leave an unrepairable mortal wound to your heart. Every man and woman on earth since Adam are charged with their ingratitude, in other words, ignoring and despising their Creator.
II. INSOLENCE – PEOPLE BECOME FOOLS
The second charge is people’s insolence. They reject God and claim that they are better without God, wise without God. But in fact, they become futile; their minds become empty; their foolish hearts are darkened. A Christian said, ‘Man created as worshipper becomes man the philosopher, but his empty wisdom only reveals his foolishness.’ Many passages in the Bible point out foolishness of man. Ps. 49:12-14, for example, say this: “Man in his pomp will not remain; he is like the bests that perish. This is the path of those who have foolish confidence; yet after them people approve of their boasts. Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol; death shall be their shepherd.” 1 Cor. 1:18-21 also talk about the same in these words, “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’ Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? … the world did not know God through wisdom.”
I see Stephen Hawking, renowned ‘scientist,’ was a typical example for this charge of man’s insolence. One day he wanted to prove his view against the existence of God. After presenting a case for the incredible fine-tuning that was required for conscious life on earth, he concluded that such required fine-tuning was met by ‘incredible coincidences.’ Then, he argued that those incredible ‘coincidences’ involved in this fine-tuning were not evidence of the work of God. But, “God’s eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,” says v. 20 of our text passage, and Ps. 49:12 comments on man’s insolence, saying, “Man in his pomp will not remain; he is like the beasts that perish.” Then, v. 13 of the same psalm – Ps. 49 – continues, saying, “This is the path of those who have foolish confidence; yet after then people approve of their boasts,” meaning, ‘approve one another’s insolence’!
Hearing these first two charges against man, if any of you feel depressed or if any part of this message happens to lead you to be frustrated or discouraged, you’re missing the point of this message. Rather, you should be led to the opposite direction, that is, to have deeper and greater joy of salvation and hope of heaven because all your former charges were dismissed by faith in Jesus and you’ve moved from the dock to the side of the Judge as a freeman. You used to be ingratitude to your Creator God, but by His grace in Jesus, you give Him your heart and soul in worship and sing praises in Jesus’ name. What a blessed person you are now! You used to be insolent, arrogant, thus, foolish. But now, your heart is no longer darkened with man’s foolishness; rather, the fear of the Lord is your wisdom and it grows daily as the Lord leads you in His care. How good and gracious this is! So, hearing about your former status, it should stir up your heart and soul only to refill them with the joy of salvation!
III. IDOLATRY – PEOPLE WORSHIP IDOLS
See what great joy the next charge against man would bring to you. It’s the sin of ‘idolatry.’ People worship idols rather than God. This is closely connected to man’s insolence because, rejecting God, man is left without a god to worship and to depend on. He claims that he’s better without God, wise without God. But, man was created to worship something and, having no true God, having his heart become futile and empty, darkened with foolishness, he worships a false god, an idol, or multiple idols. Turning his eyes to a false god or gods, he needs to see his god. So, he makes one for himself. In what image? In his own image, in man’s image, or in any created being, such as birds and animals and creeping things! In creation, God commissioned man to rule and manage all created things; so, Adam named every creature God had created. But, in his insolence, he rejects God and makes himself or any of the created beings his own god, idol. How foolish he becomes!
In fact, making an idol of his own image, man accomplishes what Satan lusted after in the Garden of Eden. Do you remember what Satan said to the woman? Gen. 3:5 records: “when you eat of it … you will be like God”! Instead, however, man has fallen so low to worship even creeping things of the earth! Someone called it man’s ‘devolution’ and how accurate that is!
Yet, reminding you once again, you and I and all who believe in Jesus, thus, enjoy His eternal life even in this flesh raise our voices in praise to God, saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest!’ (Lk. 2:14). We worship one God in Three Persons – God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – who is the first and the last, the beginning and the end, our gracious Lord!
IV. IMPURITY – PEOPLE INDULGE IN WICKEDNESS
The fourth and last charge our text passage brings against people is their ‘impurity.’ People indulge in wickedness. This is a natural development – or next step ‘devolution’ – from man’s previous sin, that is, his idolatry.
Because man himself is now his own god, there’s nothing that tells him to stop in sinning; he can do whatever he sees good and desirable. No guilt feeling whatsoever; no more fear of judgment. So, indulgence in wickedness and more wickedness is the only path people proceed and advance and continue. When a person breaks something that used to be regarded in his mind as a sin, it excites him. But continuing it, that excitement soon fades away. Then, another sin has to be broken for the same or similar excitement. This goes on till he finds no more sin to break. Yet, he still searches for more to break in search of fleeting pleasure.
For this, v. 24 of Rom. 1 states: “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonouring of their bodies among themselves.” The following verses, such as v. 26 and on, point out homosexuality, but that’s not the end of people’s ever-growing lusts. This is what v. 27 tells us as it says, “[those who commit these sins receive] in themselves the due penalty for their error.” Hear v. 28 in this regard, “since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased [or ‘depraved’] mind to do what ought not to be done.”
Let me explain to you two things – that is, what this verse doesn’t mean and what it means. Firstly, what this doesn’t mean. By saying, “God gave them up to a debased mind” doesn’t mean God caused people’s minds to become depraved. Rather, secondly, this means that people rejected God and, by rejecting God, they became their own god. Then, they start failing in relationship with others and with the rest of creation. That’s why they do ‘what ought not to be done.’ Vs. 29-31 narrate what those are – they are unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice, envy, murder, strife, deceit, gossip, and so on and on. God didn’t change people’s minds; they themselves left God and speed on in that direction. This is not my arbitrary interpretation of the Scripture; it is based on the Greek word used in the original language version of the NT.
What is worse, as I see this section of the Bible, is recorded in v. 32 which reads, “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.” People who live in all these four sins charged here in this passage, such as ingratitude, insolence, idolatry and impurity, not only do continue in their sins, but also give their ‘hearty’ approval to others who do the same sins. And by their approval, they encourage one another to commit sins in more frequency and degree. You don’t need to look around to find any example because such is what is happening in our generation; people encourage others to indulge themselves more in wickedness!
So, what is the message we take to our hearts? First of all, we must give thanks to God in Jesus more and more, and our praise to Him can never cease, considering the blessing we have received through our salvation. We were members of sinful mankind; but now, we’re members of God’s household, being cleansed of our multitude of sins and clothed with Jesus’ righteousness! Every moment of our life in Jesus is our joy and praise and thanks. We must remember this by hearing how bad we were, how darkened our heart used to be.
The second lesson is this; rejoicing in Jesus, all of us in Christ must be proud of our salvation, must be bold with such confidence in the gospel, this good news of Jesus because this gospel of Jesus’ free grace is the ONLY salvation that is offered to, thus, available for the sinners! You and I are its messengers, maybe, only available for some people around us. If you and I don’t deliver this to them, they might not be able to hear this good news at all and miss the opportunity forever! Do you see the message this passage in Rome brings to us? God is pleased to save sinners “through the folly of what we preach” as 1 Cor. 1:21 emphasises. We’re Christ’s letter to the world, inviting all sinners to Jesus the Lord.
Now, it becomes clearer why the Apostle Paul says in v. 17 of Rom. 1 that he is “not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes”! May the Lord grant you and me the same boldness in the gospel as well as joy of salvation, and send us to our families, friends and neighbours! ***