This is a sermon I preached last year. It’s a bit long but with the political season we are in I felt it was appropriate to post today.
Our world is desperately depraved. That sounds rough but if we are honest, we’ll admit it’s true. The news headlines are daily filled with examples of the depravity of man. It could be CEO’s stealing the retirement of their employees. It could be stories of oppression of cruel rulers of other nations. It could be stories about one person murdering or torturing another person. Regardless of the circumstances behind the story, it is the same problem in the story, the depravity of man.
Humanity has always recognized the problem of evil in the world and has taken various steps to try to fix it. Some have believed that if they could get away from the rest of the world they could create a utopian society that would be untouched by evil. Yet man’s depravity always came with man and so evil followed. Others have tried to solve the problem of evil through politics or legislation. If they just had the right leaders and the right laws, it would solve the problems of evil in society. Man’s depravity caused leaders to become corrupt and provoked men to violate the most well intentioned laws. Man’s solutions for depravity have all utterly failed. Why do human solutions to man’s depravity fail? That’s what we are going to talk about today. Open your Bible to Romans 1:18-32 (pg 857). The title of the message is The Power of the Gospel.
When I first planned this series, it was going to be about six weeks long and come from various books of the N.T. with only one coming from Romans. Then about two weeks before the start of the series, I was studying the first message in Romans when I realized that all the topics I wanted to cover were found in Romans. The more I looked into Romans the more things I found that explained the Gospel or flowed from the Gospel that I felt were very important to understand and the series grew. As it stands, we will be studying the Gospel from the book of Romans until mid-October.
I initially skipped this passage when I was planning the series. However, as soon as we were passed it I regretted skipping it and thought that I might preach it on a Sunday night. The last few weeks I really began to feel like this was something that was foundational to our understanding of the need for the Gospel in our lives and our need to share the Gospel. This passage explains why the Gospel is so needed, why the people of God should know the Gospel, believe the power of the Gospel and be committed to sharing the Gospel.
At the first of Romans Paul sets out to explain why the Gospel is so important. Paul explains that the one factor that unites the people of the world is depravity. What Paul explains in v18-32 is the degeneration of a society as they turn from God. In this, he also explains why man’s solution for depravity fails.
Man’s rejection of God leads to depravity. V18-21
One of the first things that should stand out to us in v18 is that it talks about the wrath of God. While the wrath of God may not be a pleasant idea to think about, it is a very Biblical idea that we must understand. The Biblical authors had no qualms about expressing the fact of God’s wrath. One theologian says, “One of the most striking things about the Bible is the vigor with which both Testaments emphasize the reality and terror of God’s wrath.” We are also told the reason for God’s wrath in this passage.
God’s wrath will be revealed against those who are ungodly and unrighteous. That they are ungodly means that they are unlike God. They do not work at developing godly character. They do not honor God in word or deed. They have no concern about honoring God. They are also unrighteous. This means they are actively living sinful lives.
The reason they are ungodly and unrighteous is that they reject God’s truth. The primary truth of God that they are rejecting is God’s revelation of Himself. We see in v19, that God has not hidden the truth about Himself but has made it known. There are at least four ways God has made the truth about Himself known.
According to v20, God’s truth is revealed in nature. In chapter 2, we are told that God’s truth is revealed by our conscious’s (Rom 2:15). We also know that God’s truth is revealed in Scripture. God’s ultimate revelation of Himself is in the person of Jesus Christ (Heb 1:1-2).
The picture here is that men recognize God’s revelation in these areas and then reject it. Actually, it says they suppress the truth. The idea here is that they repress the truth or that they hinder the truth from going forward. This is further illustrated in v21. Men knew God, or at least knew about God, and rather than submit to God they rejected Him. Their rejection of God is described in two ways in v21.
First, they chose not to glorify God. They refused to worship God as Creator. They refused to come to God as Redeemer. They refused to submit to God as Lord. They refused to serve God as Worthy. The reason that man’s rejection of God leads them to refuse to glorify God is that they don’t like the things that are revealed about God. What is revealed about God teaches us something about His character and nature. What is revealed about the character and nature of God is something that man does not like.
Revelation about God teaches us that God is sovereign. One of the things that men strive after in this life is control. We want to be in control of all the things that are around us. Sometimes we may even develop an illusion of control and believe that we really are in control of our world. This works fine until the stock market’s crash, natural disasters strike, a loved one dies, our marriage crumbles or the test results come back badly. At this point, the illusion of control is destroyed. The sovereignty of God reminds us of our own limitations. For men who crave control, this is something that cannot be stomached and it causes them to reject God.
Revelation about God teaches us that God is holy. The absolute holiness of God is problematic because we are not holy. The reason that holiness is a problem to our unholiness is that a part of holiness is justice. For God to be holy, He must also be just. For God to be just, He must give sinners the punishment they deserve. This means that we are ultimately accountable to God and this is a fearful thought. Humans are funny in that they think justice is great, when other people are getting it. The idea that we are accountable to a God who will not excuse our sin or make exceptions for us is intolerable and leads man to reject God.
Revelation about God also teaches us that God is omniscient. God knows everything about everything. If God knows everything about everything, then what He says about humans and human nature is true. God has said that by nature we are all sinners. God has said that by nature we are children of wrath. God has said that we are unable to do anything about our sin and His wrath apart from Him. God’s omniscience also means He knows the secrets of our hearts, minds and lives. He knows all about the things that we try so hard to hide from other people. He knows the motives behind our actions despite the reasons we give. God’s knowledge of us, what He has said about our nature disturbs us and leads us to reject Him.
Revelation about God also teaches us that God is immutable. God’s character, nature and standards will never change. God will always be sovereign, holy and omniscient. God will always hold men to the standard of righteousness given in His Law. God will always punish sin. God will never make exceptions and He will never excuse anyone. God will hold you and me to the exact same standard that Billy Graham is held to. The unchanging, unwavering nature of God offers a great deal of comfort for the believer but is horrifying to the unbeliever and so they reject Him.
Not only do men refuse to glorify God when they reject Him, but they also refuse to be thankful to God. Those who reject God and refuse to be thankful would probably say there is nothing to be thankful for because God, if there is a God, has never done anything for them. Of course, they are ignoring, either willfully or ignorantly, the common graces God pours out on all people.
Jesus says that God causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust (Matt 5:45). God does any number of things every day for all people. He makes the sun to rise. He causes rain to fall. He gives people the intelligence to develop technology and medicine. He gives us the breath of life. Every good and perfect thing in this world comes from God (Jam 1:17). But men who reject God refuse to acknowledge God’s role in these things and so refuse to give Him thanks.
The result of rejecting God is that men become futile in their thoughts about God. Futile sorta means empty and carries with it the idea of wrong or worthless. Instead of receiving the revelation about what God is truly like, they begin to make up empty, wrong and worthless ideas about what God is really like. Rather than worshipping the great and glorious God as He is, they come up with foolish ideas about what God is like. They get rid of all the things about God that make them uncomfortable and remake God in an image they like better. A kinder, gentler god that makes them feel all warm on the inside. Unfortunately for them, what they’ve done is rejected God and become futile in their thoughts.
They also become darkened in their hearts. The word for darkened used here pictures blindness. They have become blinded to the truth about God. They are in spiritual darkness and cannot see the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus. They find the Gospel to be foolish or offensive. They cannot believe that anyone would find the Bible relevant for their lives today. They are lost in spiritual darkness without any light to guide them to find a way out of the darkness. They are helpless and hopeless on their own.
Man’s rejection of God and His truth leads to their depravity. As long as men are living in rejection of God and His truth, they will never have a real solution to depravity. They can develop medication. They can create legislation. They can give easier access to education. Despite all the good these things may do, they will never be a real solution to the depravity of man because sickness, laws and ignorance aren’t the root problem of depravity. The root problem of depravity is man’s rejection of God.
Man’s replacement of God deepens depravity. V22-25
There are several problems with rejecting God. One is that rejecting God doesn’t end man’s accountability to God. Ultimately, mankind is accountable to God regardless of whether they acknowledge God or not. God does not exist because we believe in Him. God is not the final authority because we want Him to be. God exists and is the final authority because He does exist and because He is the final authority. There is nothing man can do that will change this.
Another problem with man rejecting God is that man is hardwired to worship and if we don’t worship God then we will find something else to worship. Understand that worship isn’t singing. Singing is an expression or an act of worship. The heart of worship is declaring that someone or something is worthy. One of the ways that we declare that someone or something is worthy is that we make it the central object of devotion in our lives. We take this, whatever it may be, and we make it ultimate in our lives. Our lives revolve around this. Our lives are devoted to this. Whatever is ultimate in our lives is what we worship. When God is not ultimate and the object of our worship then something else or someone else will fill that void in our lives. When man replaces God as ultimate, it deepens depravity.
I think v22 is pretty great and something we hear a lot of in our day. The argument is that man that has rejected God as ultimate they reason that it is because they are too wise. In the Greek mind that venerated philosophers, wisdom was often seen as ultimate. So many used this wisdom as a reason for rejecting God and their replacement for God. However, since worldly wisdom is not God’s wisdom, they became fools.
Think about how this plays out in our world today. People will profess I am too wise to believe in an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving God. I am too intelligent to believe the fables of the Bible. I am too capable not to depend on myself. I am too rational not to create my own standards for life. While professing themselves to be wise, they actually become fools.
This foolishness is most clearly seen in what they replace God with. We are told in v23that they exchange the glory of the incorruptible God for something that is corruptible. Look at v25. They exchange the truth of God for a lie and end up worshiping something that is created rather than worshipping the Creator of all. They replaced the Creator God with a creation of man.
Now during the time that Romans was written, idolatry usually focused on actual, physical idols. Rather than worshipping the invisible God, they would worship a visible statue that had been carved for them to bow down to. In our day we don’t see a whole lot of physical idol worship. There are probably very few people, especially in America, that actually worship a physical idol. This doesn’t mean that people haven’t replaced God with an idol of their own creation.
There are a couple of ways that happens. One of the ways that this happens is that they exchange the truth about God for a lie about God. This is usually in relation to something about the character and nature of God. We’ve talked about certain attributes of God that men don’t like and so reject. So what many people do is that they exchange the truth about God as revealed in Scripture for a lie that makes them feel more comfortable.
Perhaps they don’t like the idea God’s wrath and so they exchange that truth for a lie that says God has no wrath. Perhaps they don’t like the idea of God’s holiness and so they exchange that truth for a lie that says God is more like us that we realize. Perhaps they don’t like the idea of the uniqueness of Christ and so they exchange that truth for a lie that says all paths lead to God. There are so many ways that this could play out and so many ways that this does play out in our world. The main idea is that they exchange the truth about God as revealed in Scripture for a lie that contradicts Scripture.
It is important for us to understand here that just because someone calls what they worship God, doesn’t mean that they are truly worshipping the God of the Bible. Think about the idolatry of the Israelites during the exodus. Moses had gone up the mountain to receive the Law. While he was gone the people became restless and asked Aaron to create a god for them. Aaron took the gold from them and created a golden calf. When he presented the golden calf to them he didn’t say, “Behold the cow god!” Instead, he said, “…This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!” (Ex 32:4) They exchange the glory of the incorruptible God for an image made my corruptible man. Just because they call it god doesn’t mean that it’s the God of the Bible. When man exchanges the truth about God for a lie, they are rejecting God and replacing God with something of their own creation.
Our culture is becoming increasingly secular in its rejection of any thoughts of God at all. For many in our day it’s not enough to create God in our image, any thoughts about any sort of God must be rejected. Despite this, something will still take the ultimate place in our lives. What replaces God as ultimate will often vary from person to person. Some of the things that replace God could be, a house, a car, a job, a hobby, a position, money, sports, family (spouse or children), comfort, TV, sex, possessions, food, pleasure, power.
One of the things that should stand out to us as we look at this list is that none of these things are inherently bad. . In fact, most of them are good things. Most of these are things that God may in fact give us in the course of our service to Him. What happens is that the depravity of man makes good things evil when they replace God as ultimate in our lives.
Notice in v24 what happens when men replace God as ultimate. I’ll talk about God giving men up in a minute. Right now, I want to focus on what says about the deepening of depravity that results on man rejecting and replacing God. The first way it is described is as uncleanness. In Scripture, uncleanness usually refers to moral sins. So once man has rejected and replaced God then their morality becomes immorality.
This doesn’t mean that people far from God can’t/don’t live decent moral lives. Instead, it means that their morality is more determined by themselves than by God. They might live good moral lives but justify cheating on their taxes.
They might live good moral lives but justify sex outside the bonds of marriage. They might live good moral lives but justify adultery or leaving their spouse for another. They might live good moral lives but justify drunkenness.
Paul goes on in v24 to explain why their morality may play out this way. Their morality will be more defined by the desires of their heart than it will by the revelation of God. The word that the NKJ translates as “lusts” carries with it the idea of passionate desires. Usually we associate lust with sexual desires but it’s not always limited to that. In this passage, it refers to anything that man passionately desires that is forbidden by God.
Once man has rejected God, they will often replace God by making the desires of their hearts ultimate. They will live and do whatever they want without any regard to what God has said on the subject. They may give reasons as to why this desire is acceptable despite what God has said. They may reject what God has said as a myth that has no relevance for today. Regardless of how they explain giving in to these desires, the actual reason is the same. They have made their desires ultimate instead of God. They have replace God with their desires.
Man’s replacement of God as ultimate deepens their depravity. As long as men are replacing the truth about God with a lie, they will never have a real solution to depravity. They develop all kinds of philosophies, plans and legislation but as long as man’s desires are ultimate, depravity will prevail.
God releases men into depravity. V26-32
We see in v24 and in v26 that eventually God gives men up to depravity. This is quite a fearful thought but it is one that must be understood. This doesn’t say that God gave up on man. Instead, it says that God ceased to restrain man and allowed them to go headlong into their depravity. As man continues to reject and replace God in favor of their depravity, God allows them to have what they want.
Have any parents taken their kids to a restaurant and had them tell you they want something from the menu that you know they won’t like? You tell them no but they keep on and on and on until you finally let them get it. In the end, you are proven right as what they wanted turns out to be something that they really didn’t want. That is sorta the picture here. As men continue to reject and replace God in favor of their depravity, God gives them what they want and releases them to go headlong into their depravity and experience the full consequences of depravity, rejecting and replacing God. While I don’t have time to cover every act of depravity listed in this passage, I do want to point out a few things.
We see in v26-27 that homosexuality is mentioned. Women are mentioned in v26 and men are mentioned in v27. The common argument about this passage is that this didn’t refer to loving, monogamous relationships but to temple prostitution. That idea is completely bogus. While temple prostitution is included in this, it is not limited to that. Homosexual relationships in any form are a sin against God and a sign of man’s depravity. The further a person or a society moves away from God the more this sin will be accepted.
Another thing I want to mention is found in v30. No matter how many times I read this passage I’m always amazed that disobedient to parents finds its way into this list. There are so many things on this list that I can totally understand being here and by comparison kids being disobedient to parents seems tame and out of place. Yet God obviously doesn’t see things the way that we do.
I think it is very important for kids and parents to both see this on the list and understand how serious God sees a kid being disobedient to parents is. Kids need to see it because our culture glorifies teenage rebellion. While our culture says it is not only acceptable but actively encourages it, God sees it as a sin and a sign of the depravity of man. Parents need to see it because it is our job to teach our children about the character and nature of God. It is also our job to train them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. What are we teaching our kids when we call rebellion “kids being kids” and act like it’s no big deal when God sees it as a sin and a sign of the depravity of man?
The last thing I want us to see in found in v31. Once men go headlong into depravity, they not only commit sin but they encourage others to take part in this sin as well. What really stands out to me about this is that they know the righteous judgment of God. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they believe what the Bible says about God’s judgment. Just that they know it. The image this gives me is that of knowing the judgment of God, encouraging people to take part in sin that brings the judgment of God and then reveling in the fact they will be judged by God or mocking the idea of God’s judgment.
The degeneration we see in this passage isn’t a onetime event. What we see in v18-32 isn’t something that happened at some point in the past or may happen at some point in the future. Instead, this is something that continually happens in society as it moves further and further away from God. As we look at v18-32, do we see any of these things in our world? Do we see any of these things in our country? Do we see any of these things in our community? Obviously, the answer is yes we do.
Since man’s solutions to depravity have always failed, what is the solution to this problem? The solution to depravity does not come from man but God. The Gospel is God’s solution to man’s depravity. That is the point Paul is making and building to in the early parts of Romans. As Christians, we must understand and believe this. Man’s methods do not solve the problems.
The Church today spends far too much time trying to solve the spiritual problem of depravity with the failing methods of man. Probably the greatest way we do this is through politics. Don’t misunderstand me here. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t vote or be involved in the political process. I absolutely think we should be informed about the issues. I absolutely think we should vote when we are given the opportunity. However, we must not rest our hope for change in a politician or a particular party. Democrats have been in control of the Senate, the House and the presidency and still depravity prevailed. Republicans have been in control of the Senate, the House and the presidency and still depravity prevailed. Man’s solution of politics will fail to stem the tide of depravity. The Gospel will not.
Let me show you an example of this. Turn with me to Acts 19:21-27 (pg 848). At this point Paul had been preaching the Gospel in Ephesus for a couple of years. In this time, the Gospel had spread rapidly and had changed many lives. Paul now determined it would be a good time for him to move on and take the Gospel to other places. He sent his assistants away and seemed to be wrapping things up to follow them when trouble broke out.
What was the trouble? Look at v24-27. So many people had believed the Gospel and been saved that it affected the profits of the idol makers. Idol making was big business and had probably made most of these guys rich. That was before the Paul came to Ephesus. Paul preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ and organized a church. That church continued to seek to spread the Gospel and the Gospel had such a powerful influence on their community that they were about to put the idol makers out of business.
As I look at this passage, what I notice is that they didn’t do this through political means. At this point Christianity was seen by many as a new sect of Judaism and had no political influence whatsoever. They didn’t do this through protests. They didn’t go outside the idol maker’s shops and hold up signs where they had written, “God says idolatry is a sin.” Had they done this, they probably would have been arrested and executed. They didn’t even plan an organized boycott. When people believed the Gospel, they were saved. A people saved through the Gospel stopped replacing God with idols and idolatry. The Gospel had such power in this community that those who profited from people’s bondage to sin became nervous about the change that was taking place. That is the power of the Gospel. That is why the Gospel is God’s solution to man’s depravity.
What if what happened in here, happened here? Do we believe that could happen? Personally I do. Here is why I believe that. It’s because the God that caused this to happen in here, is the God we serve here. The immutable God who made this happen in Ephesus could also make this happen in American and in Guymon. However, before it can happen, the people of God must believe in the power of the Gospel and be committed to share the Gospel.
The way I see it, there are only two things that will limit what God can and will do here. The first is a lack of faith. If we are not willing to believe God can do amazing things here, then He probably won’t. It’s not that He can’t do them. He can do anything He wants to do whether we believe Him or not. It’s just that He won’t. The second limit is a lack of action. I have a firm conviction that God will not do amazing things through a group of people that are not willing to put forth any effort. As I read the book of Proverbs, I see God having a pretty dim view of laziness and a pretty high view of diligence.
Let’s all stand with our heads bowed and eyes closed as our musicians come forward.
Believer, are you convinced in the power of the Gospel? Are you convinced that the Gospel is God’s solution to man’s depravity? If you answered yes to this, are you actively sharing the Gospel? Sharing the Gospel can be hard and it is often fearful but it something that must be done. God will save all who believe but people cannot believe if they have not heard. We are the people that must tell them. During this time of response this morning, pray for God to give you opportunities to share the Gospel. Pray for the courage to take those opportunities.
For those of you that have never trusted in Christ for your salvation, I want you to know that what the Gospel did in Ephesus, it can do in your life as well. To experience the power of the Gospel you must believe in your heart and confess with your mouth. You must believe that Jesus died for your sins and rose again. You must believe that He offers you a righteousness that you cannot attain on your own. Then you must confess that Jesus is Lord. This means that you turn to Christ and receive Him into your life as your righteousness and your Lord.
 J. I. Packer, Knowing God quoted by James Montgomery Boice, An Expositional Commentary – Romans, Volume 1: