God Gave Them Over

Romans 1:18-32

I think it all began with that famous six million dollar cup of coffee from McDonalds. Warning labels began appearing on everything, to the point of absurdity.

Intro: Catfish Bait / Warning labels

We live in a world where we want and demand warnings on everything we buy – hot coffee, cell phones, sweetener, grocery sacks – even catfish stink bait! We demand them, and we’ll sue if we haven’t been warned about potential dangers – regardless of how remote they might seem.

How strange then that religious warnings seem so offensive. If someone warns us about the potential spiritual dangers of some activity, or declares that the consequences of an ungodly lifestyle are an eternity in hell – we tell them to mind their own business – they’re just being judgmental, narrow-minded and legalistic.

It would be an unhealthy imbalance if we spent all of our time preaching, warning, frightening and coercing people into believing in God lest they burn in hell. But when the prophets of old were called by God, he called them “the watchmen on the wall.”  They were the first line of defense. If the watchman failed his task an entire city might be destroyed. When God calls men to preach – at least part of their task is to faithfully look on the horizon and warn of the dangers that threaten our spiritual lives.

Paul has stated in Rom. 1:16-17 the theme of the letter – I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” His theme? The righteousness of God.

He then immediately turns our attention to the tragic and eternal consequences of unrighteousness – 1:18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.

We’re not quite sure how to respond to the idea of God’s wrath. It seems so out of character with this God whom John tells us is love.
• God’s wrath? We have him pictured as a kindly old grandfather with flowing beard and an endless supply of goodies in his pocket – who would never condemn anyone and is the very definition of tolerance.
• God’s wrath? That belongs to a bygone era, when people weren’t quite so sophisticated and modern and needed to be frightened and coerced into being good with pictures of hellfire and brimstone.
• God’s wrath? Well, there it is, in black and white, as bold as day.

So, what makes God angry? What could possibly evoke that kind of a response from one who loved the world so much he sent his one and only son to die for it?

Let’s start by making sure we understand what we’re talking about. Don’t ever confuse God’s anger with man’s anger. When we get angry it is almost always because we didn’t get our way, or someone did something that pushed us too far – it is almost always selfish. It is accompanied with fits of temper and harsh words and violence.

God doesn’t get angry because he doesn’t get his way – he gets angry because he knows that our sin and disobedience always result in our hurt and self-destruction. How many fathers laugh when their children get hurt? God doesn’t either. He doesn’t wink and sin and laugh it off as just the way people are. He knows the consequences – he’s been there in the ER when a child is brought in after getting hit by a drunk driver – he has listened in on the phone conversations at the Rape Crisis Center hotlines. He has agonized in the divorce court when the cast off wife watches her husband walk out the back door with a new and younger model. God is angry when evil destroys his children. We shouldn’t be surprised that God gets angry at sin – how could we expect a father not to?

Have you ever met someone who has an excuse for everything?
• It’s not my fault – it’s my parents – teachers - government!
• I was the oldest – youngest - middle child!
• I’m just too busy, nobody ever told me, everybody does it!
• My alarm didn’t go off.
• And of course – my dog ate it!
We give excuses to absolve ourselves of responsibility – if it’s not my fault then surely I can’t be held accountable.

Can you imagine how many excuses God must hear?
My parents never too me to church – my parents took me to church too much. Somebody hurt my feelings. I didn’t like the preaching. Too many hypocrites. Sunday’s my only day to sleep in.

Paul nails our excuse-making for what it is – rationalizing sin. Wickedness and ungodliness – because we didn’t know any better? Paul says, … since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. (Rom. 1:19-20).

Even if you have never read the Bible, you cannot miss the unmistakable fact that there is a creator – a loving, personally involved God. We are without excuse because God has revealed himself in every intricate detail of creation – listen to the Psalmist, The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. (Ps. 19:1-4).

Let me tell you three things that happen when we refuse to see God and acknowledge him as Lord:

#1 We exchange the Creator for the creation

Romans 1:21-23, 25 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles... They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised.
• I’m fascinated by children who play with the boxes instead of the gifts. It’s cute in children, incomprehensible in adults.
• Isaiah talked about the fools who cut down a tree, use half of it to build a fire and cook their food over, and the other half to carve into a god so they can bow down and worship it.
• When we start thinking that the world around is it – all there is – not that God created nature – but that nature itself is God – what fools we are.
• When we make God subservient to our personal pursuits and lifestyles – we keep him in a little box that doesn’t interfere, doesn’t inconvenience what we want – what fools we have become.
And let me tell you – it’s a poor trade.

#2 We start making our own rules.

• Paul is pretty explicit, speaking about sexual immorality and homosexuality – but then again, do you find yourself having to explain certain concepts to your children just because they listen to the evening news? Some things we don’t think are proper to talk about in the presence of children – but let me assure you, the media will explain it all if you don’t – sexual immorality, homosexuality, perversion. And they will make Christians out to be villains for being so intolerant.
• The thing that has amazed me over the last several years is not the number and enormity of scandals involving priests and politicians and coaches and corporate executives (those are getting to be common place), but how inconsequential they are made to seem. Regardless of guilt or innocence, our society is quickly moving toward a position of “who cares – he’s not doing anything everybody else isn’t doing.”
• God’s position on sexual immorality and homosexuality are unambiguous – they are absolutely, unequivocally sin – not an alternative lifestyle, not a human foible – sin – abomination.
• In vss. 29-31, Paul lists sin after sin – some enormous, some we snicker at and think they’re no big deal – They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.
• But listen to what Paul then writes – vs. 32 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.
• When we disconnect from God, when we refuse to acknowledge his right to rule in our lives – we lose our standard, we start making our own rules.

#3 God’s response: God gave them over

There are no more tragic words in all the Bible –
vs. 24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.
vs. 28 Since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.
• “He gave them over” – God is relentless – nothing can separate us from God’s love. But when we consciously and intentionally separate ourselves from God and his will – Paul literally says, “God gives up.”
• He cannot, he will not force his will upon us. And if we reject his will, he can do only one thing – to let us have our way. Actually, what he is letting have it’s own way is sin – he is giving us over to Sin’s rule. If God cannot be our lord, sin will.
• We think we’re getting freedom, but instead we’re getting slavery. We think we’re getting pleasure, but instead we are immersing ourselves in pain and heartache. We think we’re experiencing life in all of its fullness, when all we are really getting is a fatal dose of spiritual death.
• Three things Paul says God gave them over to:
sinful desires / shameful lusts / depraved minds.
• It made me think of something else Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:12 Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. That’s not just scary rhetoric. Paul is deadly serious. Imagine what life would be like with God and without hope.

Righteousness for sin, the Creator for creation, life for death – poor trades. Like the son in the story who traded a castle and a loving father for a mud hut with the savages. God created us for so much more than that, and his promise is that you can experience everything he has prepared for you in his son, Jesus Christ.

In Kathleen Norris‘s Amazing Grace she tells of a Saturday evening when she and her husband were eating at a local steakhouse and struck up a conversation with an old-timer, a tough, self-made man who had little use or respect for religion. They had known him casually – he knew them as Christians writers. This evening, probably because he was about to enter chemotherapy, he was more talkative:

Out of the blue, Arlo began talking about his grandfather, who had been a deeply religious man, or as Arlo put it, “a [darn] good Presbyterian.” His wedding present to Arlo and his bride had been a Bible, which he admitted he had admired mostly because it was an expensive gift, bound in white leather with their names and the date of their wedding set in gold lettering on the cover. “I left it in its box and it ended up in our bedroom closet,” Arlo told us. “But,” he said, “for months afterward, every time we saw grandpa he would ask me how I liked that Bible. The wife had written a thank-you note, and we’d thanked him in person, but somehow he couldn’t let it lie, he’d always ask about it.” Finally, Arlo grew curious as to why the old man kept after him. “Well,” he said, “the joke was on me. I finally took that Bible out of the closet and I found that granddad had placed a twenty-dollar bill at the beginning of the Book of Genesis, and at the beginning of every book . . . over thirteen hundred dollars in all. And he knew I’d never find it.”