God Gave Them Over: Moral Decline & Romans 1

Thoughts and Reflections

To ring in the new year here in Sydney, I like to watch the fireworks. They always set off a fiery cascade tumbling down from the bridge into the harbour, which is pretty awesome, even though I’ve inevitably become desensitized to the novelty over the years. A TV broadcast covers the evening’s official entertainment: usually some B-grade TV personality spends hours roaming the crowd getting vox pops of party-goers in the lead up to the midnight fireworks, and as the night progresses, the crowd gets rowdier. People push their way in front of the camera yelling drunken frivolities; kissing, dancing, and miming obscenities while exposing an indecent amount of flesh. Of course, this is only the tame stuff that’s fit for family viewing. Everyone knows the real stuff happens later on, and in the morning, they all wake up with hangovers and regrets. Happy new year.

The Problem

It seems that not only have I become desensitized to the awesomeness of millions of dollars worth of fireworks exploding off the Coathanger – I’ve become desensitized to the moral degradation of society. I expect that a crowd of people going out to party will descend into a drunk and disorderly orgy borne out of euphoria and crowd mentality.

Are things getting worse, or have they always been this bad? While I think there’s been a trend of decreasing morality in recent decades, things were also bad in the times of the Paul the Apostle, which makes his insights in the book of Romans not just pertinent to his own society, but also to ours. Let’s have a look at Romans 1:

24-25 For this reason, God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonouring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator, who is forever praised! Amen.
26-27 This is why God gave them over to degrading passions. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were inflamed in their lusts for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.
28-32 And since they did not think it worthwhile to acknowledge God, God gave them over to a worthless mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, greed and wickedness. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving and unmerciful. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them.

Paul repeats himself three times, elaborating as he goes. Verses 24-25 use the term “impurity” in a general sense, verses 26-27 go into specifics, pointing out homosexuality in particular, and verses 28-32 take things to their logical conclusion, showing the results of persisting in this kind of behaviour.

First, and to make sure we’re understanding Paul correctly, for what reason does God give them over in verses 24-25? To summarize verses 18-23: God has revealed truths about himself to all mankind via creation; truths which they have intentionally denied by persisting in completely incompatible behaviour. In this practical denial of God’s truth, mankind has set up other things to justify their behaviour and appease their minds and egos. Thus, God let them continue doing the very things they craved as an act of judgment that would ultimately end in their eternal destruction. Death by chocolate.

Secondly who are “they”? I don’t want to say that “we” have any better common sense, or would have behaved any differently had we not been saved; “There, but for the grace of God, go I”. It’s not us vs them, it’s sin vs God, and we have all been participants in sin. This means we all have an obligation to repent (which leads me to my next point).

What are we to do, then, living as Christians in a decaying world?

1. Repent. We as Christians are no better, nor do we have any right to claim the moral high-ground. After all, as 1 John 1:8 says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us”. We need to continue in repentance, not condemning others for doing the same things we are (Romans 2:1). That doesn’t mean we can’t rebuke them – on the contrary, we must rebuke them – but we need to be repentant too.

2. Evangelize. Bear witness to the gospel amidst the world’s sin, but without participating in it. In response to the pervading moral depravity, some communities have just withdrawn completely, notably the Amish and other fundamentalists on occasion. But 1 Corinthians 5:9-11 specifically says not to disassociate yourself from unbelievers in their sin, but rather, like Colossians 4:5-6 says: “Act wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Your speech should always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.”

3. Love unbelievers. Does that mean “love the sinner, hate the sin”? No, that’s a stupid axiom. A sinner is actively engaged in sin, that’s what makes them a sinner – you can’t separate them from the actions for which they are culpable. But it does mean that you shouldn’t affirm or minimize their sin in any way, but rather call them to repentance. The only loving thing you can do is to point them to the God who can save them from death in sin to life in Christ (Ephesians 2:1-5). Anything else, no matter how kind you might sound, or how nice they might think you’re being, is not loving at all if it keeps them on the path to hell. Only God can forgive sin and keep them from continuing in it (Acts 3:19), so tell them of their need for a saviour, and pray that God would grant them repentance. Mind you, they will probably hate you for it, since “friendship with the world is hostility toward God” (James 4:4), but “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you and pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:27-28)

I was at a C3 church recently, and the pastor’s wife preached the ‘giving’ sermon about how God blesses his people. She used the example about how she and her friends had planned a day out on “the yacht”, but rainy weather had been forecast. It would have been so inconvenient to schedule another date, so they all “kept positive”, prayed for good weather, and God blessed them with a sunny day. Far from being an example of God blessing faithfulness, able to be applied to financial support of their church, I see this as an example of God giving them over to the desires of their heart. They don’t want God, they want cars, yachts, money, and physical blessings, and God gives them exactly what they want.

If you pursue the lusts of your heart, they will consume you. If you suppress the truth persistently, maybe God will exercise his judgment by removing any remorse or guilt from you, so you’ll just keep on doing it, being consumed by it and eventually dying in it. But desire God, love Him and pursue him, and may God deliver you from your sins.

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