The Judgment of God – Part 1
Introduction: Divine retribution is one of those uncomfortable doctrines of Scripture that we tend to avoid or downplay. Isaiah 28:21 speaks of divine judgment as His “strange work.” But before we jump into this passage with our contemporary mindset (one which wishes to eradicate anything we find distasteful in the Biblical picture of God) and attempt to rescue God’s reputation (we want very much to domesticate God and make Him user-friendly), we need to listen carefully to what the Bible is plainly telling us about God.[i] We need to recognize that each of us has filters through which we read the Bible, and these often hinder us from hearing what the Bible actually says.[ii] The Apostle has introduced this theme in 1:1-17 and this theme is the Gospel. Beginning with 1:18ff, Paul will unfold the history of human sin and condemnation (1:18-3:20). Divine retribution is a very real fact and one that people everywhere must face, and Paul will faithfully discharge his responsibility as a minister of the Gospel by bringing us face to face with the awful reality of reprobation.
Our English word reprobate comes to us from the Latin REPROBÄTUS, “to reprove, rejected.” Webster defines the word as follows: “to disapprove of strongly; condemn; depraved; corrupt; unprincipled. Often used hyperbolically of a mischievous rogue.”[iii] As you can see, it is a very potent word. In fact, the word is rarely used in our day-to-day speech unless we wish to express ourselves in a way that strongly conveys contempt for a person whose behavior we find absolutely offensive. We noted in our last study that Paul lays as much stress on the mental sins of mankind as he does the sensual sins. It is true to say that sensual sins flow out of and are the products of the heart and mind (cf. Matthew 15:19). One of the major theological errors that pervades large sections of the charismatic movement is the Gnostic tendency to blame all sin and moral failure on Satan. In light of this, it is significant that the Apostle Paul does not even mention Satan or demons until 16:20 (where Satan is described as the enemy of Christ who strives to destroy the work of Christ). The Apostle, as Schlatter has correctly noted, “rejected speculation that degraded the body of the individual or his sexual desire as the work of Satan.”[iv]
I. Given over to Uncleanness (1:24): Man cannot live honorably if he dishonors God. The Apostle has charged that mankind is ungodly (a word that has religious overtones) and unrighteous (a moral term). Perversion in moral matters stems from perversion in our relationship to the living God. Romans 1:24-25 declares that since men do not worship the true God (but exchange the truth of God for a lie), God actively judges them by giving them over to uncleanness. Three times in this section (1:24,26,28) Paul will use the PAREDÖKEN in reference to God giving people over to the consequences of their sin. What is the nature of God’s activity in this? There are three positions.
A. Permissive: This is the most popular. Simply put, God merely permits people to do what they want to do. But the force of the Greek words opposes this.[v]
B. Privative: God gave them up according to this view by simply forsaking them. He abandoned them (Acts 14:16). This view is commendable but it lacks an important element.
C. Judicial: God does not impel people to sin (cf. James 1:13). But He does act. So-called “natural consequences” imply an impersonal universe with only set laws which, if violated, produce cause and effect. God not only permits and abandons people to go their own way, He actively judges them in the process. “Man remains responsible and can even be said to be giving himself over to uncleanness while God gives him up to the judgment of his sin.”[vi]
II. Given over to Shameful Lusts (1:26): As the result of apostasy and ungodly attitudes, God gave them over to the judgment of unnatural sexual practices. To all who have read their Bibles, this section of Romans gives the Scriptural assessment of homosexuality. Needless to say, it is as relevant today as ever. The apostle uses the words female and male (not women and men as in the NIV) to stress the gender of the individuals. God made them male and female and constituted their sexuality to complement each other. Note how Paul declares homosexual behavior to be against nature. Homosexuality is the confusion of how God created the male in relationship to the female. To change this is a tragic reversal and a violation of God’s created purpose. To go contrary to nature is to sin against the Creator.
III. Given over to a Depraved Mind (1:28): This final judicial act of God lays stress on the mental or noetic effects of sin. Listen carefully to how God appraises this situation: “Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them” (1:32). How people think about God does affect how they live. They spurned God and therefore He consigns to them what amounts to a useless mind.[vii]
IV. Unmasking the Human Heart: In the last few verses of this chapter, the Apostle concludes his analysis of the human condition with an extended catalogue of sin. “These verses,” writes Boice, “detail what theologians call ‘total depravity,’ and people do not want to hear about that. So many preachers change their message to fit today’s cultural expectations. They speak of our goodness, the potential for human betterment, the comfort of the gospel—without speaking of that for which the gospel is the cure.”[viii] Structurally, Paul’s list may be broken down into three parts.
A. Filled with Evil: The participle PEPLËRÖMENOUS (filled up with) is used to introduce four governing forms of evil.
1. Unrighteousness (cf. 1:18): A total disregard for what is right as determined by God.
2. Evil: Absence of moral principle: moral rot.
3. Selfish Greed: This refers to both the lust for wealth and the craving to gratify any kind of lust. The word is used in Colossians 3:5 in reference to idolatry (cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:5).
4. Depravity: A vicious disposition. The word KAKIA basically refers to the lack of all that constitutes human excellence and contributes to a corruption of others.
B. Full of Bitter Anti-Social Sin: The adjective MESTOUS (to be full of) introduces five words that in act or feeling define envy and two additional terms that underscore the sinfulness of slander.
1. Envy: The green-eyed monster which is never isolated from other sin.
2. Murder: Acts of violence which are rooted in premeditation (cf. James 4:1-3).
3. Strife: Wrangling and sharp contention. This produces other maligned actions rooted in hate.
4. Deceit: The attempt to mislead. The word always implies covert activity. The Greek word used here (DOLOS) literally referred to “bait for fish.”[ix]
5. Malice: A disposition to take all things in the worst sense. It denotes a spiteful attitude.
6. Gossips: Whispering detractors. Spreading rumors and putting the worst possible slant on what they hear (cf. James 4:11; 1 Peter 2:12; 3:16).
7. Slanders: Closely related with the previous term. The word speaks of public denouncement, attempting to bring ruin upon someone by character assassination.
C. Full of Themselves: The final category contains ten expressions that speak of self-serving, self-centered pride and arrogance.
1. God Haters: This describes their feelings. They are hostile to the concept that God holds them accountable for their actions. It is interesting to note that the word follows that of “slander.” The sin of pride (the sin of the devil, 1 Timothy 3:6) will always resent a Sovereign God, as the following term illustrates.
2. Insolent: The Greek word used here is HYBRISTAS. Our word “hubris” is derived from this. This is boastful pride.
3. Arrogant: An attitude rooted in a sense of superiority. The word HUPERËPHANOUS literally means “to look down on”; to consider others unworthy.
4. Boastful: This is always based on pride. The word means to swagger (cf. 2 Timothy 3:2; James 4:16).
5. Creative Evil Doers: They invent ways of doing evil (cf. Psalm 106:29). They are very productive when it comes to sin.
6. Disobedient to Parents: Their arrogance knows no boundaries. The whole fabric of society is torn when this sin spreads.
7. Senseless: This word describes their true condition. They lack understanding. “In every sin there is something both of ignorance and error at the bottom: for, did sinners truly know what they do in sinning, we might say of every sin what the Apostle speaks concerning that great sin, ‘Had they known him, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.’”[x]
8. Faithless: This does not mean that they do not believe anything, but rather they cannot be trusted.
9. Heartless: Lacking proper affection. It can be seen in our society today in the way abortion is touted as a woman’s choice or in the way fathers abandon their families.
10. Ruthless: Without mercy. The word indicates cruelty. “It is significant that, in an epistle that will stress God’s mercy throughout, the list of vices should be rounded off with merciless. This is the very depth of evil. The people who show no mercy can scarcely go lower.”[xi]
Conclusion: This disturbing passage (and by that I mean we need to take to heart what is said) says in plain language that moral depravity is the result of divine judgment. Some thirty years ago or so, the famous Harvard sociologist, Pitirim Sorokin, warned that increases in crime, suicides, mental breakdowns, revolutions, and war have been symptoms of civilizations in the midst of death pangs.[xii] In another article on homosexuals in Time magazine the author wrote, “At their fullest flowering, the Persian, Greek, Roman and Moslem civilizations permitted a measure of homosexuality; as they decayed, it became more prevalent.”[xiii] He later pointed out that sex anarchy leads to mental breakdowns, rather than the other way around as the Freudian psychologists have taught. Further, he noted that increasing sexual license leads to decreasing creativity and productivity in the intellectual, artistic, and economic spheres of life.[xiv]
The Apostle began in section (1:18) by stating that sin develops from the neglect of the light. From there it leads to the rejection of the light followed by rebellion against the light—then come all kinds of manifold wickedness. Sin renders us powerless against sin and our guilt and condemnation can be dealt with only by Christ.
[i] The passage in Isaiah is not saying that God’s “strange work” of judgment is out of character. E.J. Young, noted Old Testament writer, who taught for many years at Westminster Theological Seminary once wrote: “The purpose of His rising and His raging is to accomplish His work (cf. 5:12), even the work of judgment. Yet Isaiah describes this as a strange work, and the performing of his task as something foreign. This does not mean that in His work God will act as a stranger or foreigner would act. Nor does it mean that retributive justice is something foreign or alien to God’s nature. God is love; but God is also a consuming fire, and the work of punishment is right and just. An essential attribute of His nature is His vindicatory justice.” The Book of Isaiah II (Eerdmans, 1980), p. 293.
[ii] We readily acknowledge that other people have filters that prevent them from hearing the text, but we do not often recognize that we too come to the text with our own subjective interests. As a result, the Scriptures become muted or captive to the whims of the individual. “If our central concern in approaching the text is how it makes us feel or what it seems to be saying to us [‘this is what this verse means to me’ mentality], then the church is doomed to having as many interpretations of the text as there are interpreters.” Richard Lints, The Fabric of Theology: A Prolegomenon to Evangelical Theology (Eerdmans, 1993), p. 93.
[iii] Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language: Second College Edition (World Publishing, 1972), p. 1207.
[iv] Adolf Schlatter, Romans: The Righteousness of God, trans. S. S. Schatzmann (Hendrickson, 1995), p. 42.
[v] The threefold use of PAREDÖEN is uniform, all are in the aorist tense; active voice, indicative mood, and thus cannot be softened (cf. 2 Chronicles 32:11; Matthew 10:21; 24:9; 1 Corinthians 5:5 for similar statements).
[vi] S.L. Johnson, Jr. Romans (Believers Bible Bulletin, 1980), Lesson 4, p. 4.
[vii] ADOKIMON (refers to something that failed a test or was disqualified; useless) NOUN (the mind or reasoning faculty). This, however, refers to more than just intellectual capacity; it is the organ of moral reasoning and willingness (cf. Romans 7:23,25; 12:2; Ephesians 4:23). “People who have refused to acknowledge God end up with minds that are ‘disqualified’…from being able to understand and acknowledge the will of God.” Douglas Moo, Romans 1-8: The Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary (Moody, 1991), p. 119.
[viii] J. M. Boice, Romans: An Expositional Commentary I (Baker, 1991), p. 185.
[ix] Leon Morris points out that the word was used of such stratagems as the Trojan horse. The Epistle to the Romans (Eerdmans, 1988), p. 96.
[x] To the CHRISTIAN READER Especially Heads of Families, preface to The Westminster Confession of Faith (Free Presbyterian Press, 1983), p. 4.
[xi] L. Morris. p. 99.
[xii] P. Sorokin, The Crisis of Our Age (Dutton & Co., 1942), p. 251.
[xiii] P. Sorokin, “Homosexuality” in Time (Oct. 24, 1969), p. 82.
[xiv] P. Sorokin, “The Homosexual: Newly Visible, Newly Understood,” in Time (Oct. 31, 1969), p. 65. Of course, in our present politically correct society, Sorokin would be sneered at as being a homophobic narrow-minded bigot. The homosexual agenda, as it is rightly called, required that homosexuality be removed from the list of perversions to that of toleration. From there it quickly moved to acceptance to affirmation to finally celebration and applause. cf. Paul deParrie Romanced to Death: The Sexual Seduction of American Culture (Wolgemuth & Hyatt, 1990), p. 122f.
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