When a Society Abandons God: An Introduction to Romans
The Condition of a Godless Society
Friedrich Nietzche was a German philosopher who lived from 1844 through 1900. He was known for his writings on good and evil and the end of religion in modern society. In one of his treatises he spoke of a madman who believed that society had killed God. Here is what he said:
"Have you not heard of the madman who lit a lamp in the bright morning and went to the marketplace crying ceaselessly, "I seek God! I seek God!" There were many among those standing there who didn't believe in God so he made them laugh. "Is God lost?" one of them said. "Has he gone astray like a child?" said another. "Or is he hiding? Has he gone on board ship and emigrated?" So they laughed and shouted to one another. The man sprang into their midst and looked daggers at them. "Where is God?" he cried. "I will tell you. We have killed him--you and I We are all his killers! But how have we done this? How could we swallow up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the horizon? What will we do as the earth is set loose from its sun?"
Charles Colson, in his book Kingdoms in Conflict gave this commentary on Nietzche's words:
"Nietzsche's point was not that God does not exist, but that God has become irrelevant. Men and women may assert that God exists or that He does not, but it makes little difference either way. God is dead not because He doesn't exist, but because we live, play, procreate, govern, and die as though He doesn't."
The Apostle Paul, in his great work of Romans, writes of this as well. He says that mankind, as a whole, has abandoned God. And the results have not only immediate but eternal consequences.
Man, without God, is a sinner who is lost and on his way to an eternity that is separate from the Creator who made them. In the beginning they knew God but chose not to follow Him or bring Him glory. And a life without the Creator of the Universe is not only destructive in eternity, but leads to misery and destruction in this life as well. A society, without God will ultimately perish.
I. Introduction and Major Theme of Romans
The letter to the Romans in which we find man's great problem of sin and its remedy was written by the Apostle Paul, who was the Apostle to the Gentiles, around 57 A.D. He penned it toward the end of his missionary work in Asia Minor and Greece. It was composed nearly a decade after the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 stated that the Law of Moses was not binding on the Gentile believers who were coming into the Church.
By this time he was able to answer the question that was raised by the Council: "How can a Christian be free from the law but not from the righteousness that the law expresses?" Paul's answer to this question is carefully and clearly laid out in this marvelous Epistle which some have called his 'Magnum Opus' or his most important treatise on the subject of sin and salvation.
The major theme of Romans is the righteousness which comes from God. It is the glorious message that God justifies sinners by grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ alone. The first eleven chapters are the theological truths that make up this message. Chapters 12-16 are the practical outworking of this truth in the lives of believers and in the Church.
In chapter 1:1-7 Paul introduces himself as a bond-servant of Jesus Christ who was called as an Apostle set apart for the Gospel of God. He then immediately begins by directing our attention to the Lord Jesus Christ who was the one promised beforehand by the Old Testament Scriptures. He was declared with power to be the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead (4).
Jesus is the Lord of the universe and life cannot be completely understood apart from Him. Those that know Him as Savior have been called as saints (7). By that it means that we have been set apart for Him and have a special relationship with Christ and God the Father.
In verses 8-15 Paul expresses his thankfulness for the people of Rome. He prays for the saints there and longs to visit them. The Apostle wants to be together so he can impart some spiritual gift to help establish them and so he and they together can strengthen each others' faith. And, of course, Paul wants to preach the Gospel there to those at Rome.
It is in verses 16-17 that we get the main theme to the whole Epistle. Here is what he says:
"For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believes; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith."
The truth of the matter is that no one can be saved by works. Later, in Romans 3 Paul will say that: "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." (3:23). However, in order to get to this point, the Apostle must do some teaching. He begins with the Gentile world. This is all mankind except for the Jews. In chapter 2 he covers the Jewish world, stating they too are under sin. But let us begin where the Epistle begins, with the Gentile world denying the undeniable God.
II. Man Denies the Undeniable God: (18-20)
It was G.K. Chesterton who wrote:
"When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing, they then become capable of believing in anything."
And we might add that mankind without a fear of God is capable of doing anything as well. Just one example of this which should sicken all of us is the child sex trafficking industry. About 1 million children each year are exploited in the commercial sex trade according to the International Labor Organization. And that includes about 10,000 in the United States alone. Further, it is estimated that each victim is forced to have sex at least 5 times a day.
This should be disgusting to everyone, yet there are those who are now trying to make pedophilia legal in the United States. And there are several other things that, just a few years ago, would have been unthinkable in our country, that are being considered and even applauded today. While we should find this disturbing, it should not be something at which we should be surprised. Paul talked about a world devoid of a fear of God over 2000 years ago.
In any discussion of the Gospel, or the Good News found in the Bible we need to first find out what the bad news is that makes the Gospel so good. The truth is that man without God is evil and he is a mess. Many people say that all we need to do to make society better is to ensure that everyone is better educated. But a person who is a thief before he or she receives his PhD will be an educated thief afterwards and more capable of stealing from you. People with college degrees still sin.
Paul begins talking about mankind by saying that God's wrath "is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness." (18).
God hates sin. It is a slap in His face and it is telling your Creator that you don't want Him ruling over you. Sin is totally against the righteous character of the Lord and it destroys the relationship that man has with Him. The Lord's wrath is a settled and determined response of a righteous God against sin.
And further, its not that men didn't know the Lord. From the very beginning Adam and Eve had a relationship with Him and were created in His image. Paul says that even now, God is evident to men. His reality is evident within them because of the moral law in their hearts. But also because they can clearly see that there is a living Creator-God from the very universe that He has made. So man is without an excuse (20).
One of the things people use to cast doubt upon the Christian faith is to question whether or not God holds a person responsible for their sins and sends them to Hell even if they have never heard of Christ. Well, besides the fact that man knew God originally, Paul teaches us that the evidence of creation is so overwhelming that anyone can look at it and at least wonder who made it all. And if anyone would ask about who that God is, the Spirit of the Lord would certainly send someone to witness to that person.
The trouble with that scenario is that mankind doesn't naturally seek after God. Instead they will choose something else.
III. Man Makes His Own Gods (21-23)
Man, knowing full well who their God was in the beginning, chose not to honor Him. Rather they selected to make false gods instead. Here are Paul's words:
"For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures." (21-23).
Obviously these are not true gods but idols. And we in 21st century America may not think that we have idols today, but we still do. We may not have those of wood and stone or worship four-footed beasts. However, we do make gods of money, sex and power. Anything that we place above God is an idol. And people have given their lives for all three of the things I've mentioned.
Of course there are still the false gods of other religions that many people worship today, even in America. Sadly the Christian God is more and more being pushed out of public life, while other so-called gods get a pass in the name of tolerance. This will ultimately lead to God's judgment.
IV. God's First Judgement: Allowing Lusts of the Heart, Degrading of Bodies, and Idolatry (24-25)
We see the firs judgment of God in Romans beginning in verse 24 where it says:
"Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them."
The word paredōken translated "gave them over" in the New American Standard Bible is a judicial term used for handing over a prisoner to his sentence. Sadly, when men consistently abandon God, He will abandon them. He does this first by removing His restraint and allowing their sin to run its inevitable course. Then He will eventually give specific acts of judgment and punishment for their sins.
As we just stated, the Creator first does this through handing them over to the lusts of their hearts and the degrading of their bodies. Whatever degrading acts they were doing, He allowed them to maximize the degradation. Then we see that the Apostle once again tells of men's idolatry in verse 25. God allows men's idolatry to become full blown. He says:
"For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen!
All of this leads men down the path to further and further degradation and sin. God gives men free will and that free will, if not given over to the Lord, will ultimately bring judgment upon body, soul and spirit.
V. God's Second Judgement: Allowing Homosexuality (26-27)
Paul then repeats the word paredōken and says God gives men over or gives them up to degrading passions in verse 26. One of the major signs of a society that has strayed from a Holy God is an increase in homosexuality. This is the second judgment that we are warned of in this epistle. The nuclear family is the foundation of any society and if that breaks down, so does a culture.
In Genesis, God formed man in His image as male and female ( Genesis 1:26). And together they were to be fruitful and multiply. They were to fill the earth with God's image-bearers and subdue it (Genesis 1:28).
And the Lord said this:
"For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall be one flesh." (Genesis 2:24).
However, rather than this, mankind did that which was not natural. Paul says:
"For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned with their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error." (26-27).
VI. God's Third Judgement: Allowing A Depraved Mind (28-32)
Many of us like to stop at this point and just focus on the sin of homosexuality. We forget that Paul goes on for 5 more verses after this. Remember that the great Apostle's mission is to show us that all of us have sinned and fallen short of God's glory. Instead of seeing this fact, we tend to focus on the one sin in this list of which most of us aren't guilty.
That's why Paul throws the book at us in showing God's third judgment, a debased mind. He gives a whole list of sins. He uses the word paredōken again and says:
"And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them." (1:28-32).
And we might add that if you didn't see your particular sin in this list, it isn't exhaustive. Just add it because you, like the rest of us, are a sinner in need of a Savior. If you don't believe this, just read the next 2 chapters of Romans where this is made crystal clear.
I recently read online a good illustration by an unknown author. Here is the story he gave:
"Dr. J. Wilbur Chapman told of a distinguished minister, Dr. Howard, from Australia who preached very strongly on the subject of sin. After the service, one of the church officers came to counsel with him in the study. "Dr. Howard," he said, "we don't want you to talk as openly as you do about man's guilt and corruption, because if our boys and girls hear you discussing that subject they will more easily become sinners. Call it a mistake if you will, but do not speak so plainly about sin.
The minister took down a small bottle and showing it to the visitor said, "You see that label? It says strychnine -- and underneath in bold, red letters the word 'Poison!' Do you know, man, what you are asking me to do? You are suggesting that I change the label. Suppose I do, and paste over it the words, 'Essence of Peppermint. Don't you see what might happen? Someone would use it, not knowing the danger involved, and would certainly die. So it is, too, with the matter of sin. The milder you make your label, the more dangerous you make your poison!"
I pray that I have not been guilty of making the label of sin too mild today. In the first three chapters of Romans, Paul is discussing the poison of sin and warning us what it means if we don't take the antidote that God has given us for it.
And that antidote is the righteousness which comes through faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He died as our substitute on the cross and God the Father raised Him up, telling us that He accepted that substitution. Jesus took our sins upon Himself and gave us His own righteousness, so that when God the Father see us who are saved, He looks upon us as totally righteous in His sight.
If you don't know Jesus Christ as your Savior, you are still in your sins. The Bible says that you personally are under the wrath of Almighty God (John 3:36). And you must ask Jesus to save you from that wrath, both for now and for eternity.
If you know Jesus Christ as your Savior then thank God daily for what He has done for you by living a life that is pleasing to Him. But, more than this, warn those with whom you come in contact, that they are sinners and have to have a Savior as well. You may be the only person who ever does this.
It is my prayer that all of us will come to the same conviction as the Apostle Paul and be able to truly utter the words:
"For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." (Romans 1:16).
May the Lord make this verse real in each of our lives!
© 2019 Jeff Shirley