God Gave Them Up
Text: Romans 1:24-28
Introduction: Our culture is changing and sadly much of what passes for evangelicalism is changing with it. The language that many evangelical churches use is revealing “big,” “flashy,” “slick,” “entertaining,” “exciting,” and especially “contemporary” are how these churches often identify themselves—and they are all over the place.[i]
If you are part of what is often called the baby boom generation (born after World War II and before 1960) your parents were concerned about the influence of rock and roll music (Elvis and The Beatles). In light of today’s popular music that glorifies sex and violence those guys look like choirboys! “The times that are a changing” sang Bob Dylan in the 1960’s.
In the 20th cent. there was more change than in all the known history of the world! Worship (or what many like to call “worship”) has reflected this change. Briefly, all churches observed a traditional form of worship from 1900-1960. Then came the sixties. The revolution of the sixties and seventies were all very visible. The rise of secular humanism, the change into a more informal society, the music revolution, the political upheaval, the breakdown of the family, the emergence of sexual promiscuity, the overthrow of traditional values, the spread of violence, gangs and drugs as well as the emergence of cultural diversity and demands for power and recognition were all daily headline news. In this context the contemporary worship movement gained momentum and visibility and drew crowds that found traditional forms of worship boring and irrelevant.
The boomers, born between 1946-1960 rejected tradition and led the charge to reinvent the wheel of the church and its worship. They were confident that the past was of no value and the future was an open highway with no barriers for the new revolutionary ways of a church free from the shackles of tradition. This emergence of contemporary worship reflects and is integrated with the rise of cultural pluralism.[ii] It is significant that the Apostle Paul actually mentions “Worship” in his analysis of the human condition—but it is decidedly censorious! Some things have not changed. The rise of postmodern thought in our post Christian society has given rise to neo pagan values and these have actually been welcomed in our churches! Every one of the mainline denominations (PCUSA; The United Methodist; The American Baptist Convention and the Protestant Episcopal Church are presently in turmoil over ordaining practicing homosexuals to the ministry).
The text before us today is as relevant (another catch-word that is very much in vogue) as ever. 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.[iii] 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.[iv] 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 this awful reality.
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. Chapter 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 PAREDOKEN 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 Paul 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]
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. In the middle of the last century, 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.[viii] 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.”[ix] 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.[x]
[i] Some Evangelicals are also becoming increasingly suspicious of the “fluff” of recent decades and the
failure of evangelicals to have a more biblically and historically rooted faith. Recent evangelical writings
like Eddie Gibbs, Church Next: Quantum Changes in How to do Ministry (IVP, 2000), James Cutsinger,
Reclaiming the Great Tradition (IVP, 1997), George Hunsberger & Craig Van Galder, The Church
between Gospel & Culture (Eerdmans, 1996), George Hunter III, The Celtic Way of Evangelism
(Abingdon, 2000) and D. H. Williams, Retrieving the Tradition and Renewing Evangelicalism
(Eerdmans, 1999) all speak the same message: The road to the future runs through the past. The same
theme of “return to the tradition” is taken up by the movement of “radical orthodoxy” which has
recently taken the theological world by surprise. The writings of John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock and
others are turning modern theological opinions inside out. Milbank criticizes the modern attempt to
shore up faith through the social sciences and declares theology as the “Queen of the sciences.” He argues that “theology has frequently sought to borrow from elsewhere a fundamental account of society or history, and then to see what theological insights will cohere with it.” Rejecting this approach to faith, Milbank argues, “It is theology itself that will have to provide its own account of the final causes at
work in human history, of the basis of its own particular, and historically specific faith” (Theology and Social Theory, Blackwell, 1990, p. 380) cf. Robert Webber ”Authentic Worship in a Changing World: What’s Next?” Theology Matters (Vol. 6, No. 5, Sept./Oct. 2000).
[ii] Webber, ibid.
[iii] 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.
[iv] 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.
[v] The threefold use of PAREDOEN is uniform, all are in the aorist tense; active voice,
indicative mood, and thus cannot be softened (cf. II Chronicles 32:11; Matthew 10:21;
24:9; I 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) NOUS (the mind or reasoning faculty). This, however, refers to more than just intellectual capacity; it is the organ or 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] P. Sorokin, The Crisis of Our Age (Dutton & Co., 1942), P. 251.
[ix] P. Sorokin, “Homosexuality” in Time (Oct. 24, 1969), p. 82.
[x] P. Sorokin, “The Homosexual: New 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.
Many Christians have replied to philosophically sophisticated forms of atheism (Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell, Michael Martin, Kai Nielsen, et al), but today there is also a growing literature of atheism geared to the popular level, the realm of the so-called village atheist. Joel McDurmon tackles popular atheism in a popular but cogent way. A fine apologetic work.–Dr. John Frame, Professor of Systematic Theology and Philosophy, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, FL
Joel McDurmon is a graduate of Reformed Episcopal Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and an adjunct speaker, writer, and researcher for American Vision. (Hardback, 124 pages)