Abandoned by God – Romans 1:24-32
Pastor Mark Hardy December 18, 2011
Years ago when I was a pastor in Alabama, one day I received a phone call from the ex-wife of a college classmate of mine. She told me that her ex-husband was in the hospital in the city where I lived and that he was dying of AIDS and wanted to see me. Although they were married when I knew them in college, sometime after graduation they had divorced and he started to openly live a homosexual lifestyle to everyone’s surprise.
I’ll never forget entering his sterilized hospital room wearing my protective gown because I didn’t even recognize him until he said my name and then I recognized his voice. My heart was grieved by how the AIDS-caused diseases had ravaged his body. His teeth were black, his face was emaciated, and his body looked like a skeleton.
Although I knew that he had professed to be a Christian and had gone to a Christian college, because of what God’s Word says about those who practice homosexuality I tried to talk to him about his eternal destiny and need for a true saving relationship with Jesus Christ. But he quickly said he was fine, changed the subject, and didn’t want to talk about it anymore. Two days later he died, and unless by God’s mercy he had truly repented of his sin and received God’s gracious salvation by faith in Christ he went into a Christ-less eternity.
I know that the sin of homosexuality is not pleasant topic, but this is one of the things that Paul addresses in the passage we will be looking at this morning. Since the gospel of Jesus Christ shines brightest against the black backdrop of man’s sinfulness, it doesn’t get any darker than it does in the passage before us, which is one of the most sobering and fearful in the entire epistle of Romans. But in seeing the ugliness of man’s depravity we better understand the beauty of God’s grace. Turn with me in your Bibles to Romans 1.
In Romans 1:24-32 we see three divine punishments on mankind for failing to glorify God and turning to idols. This should help us as believers to see how much God hates sin, so that we would live more holy lives by His grace.
The first divine punishment on mankind is being:
I. Abandoned to Sexual Immorality
A. Look at v. 24: Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them.
1. The word “Therefore” here refers back to the three evidences of man’s sinfulness that justify God’s wrath on all of humanity that we saw last time in vv. 19-23: People suppress God’s truth of Himself in creation (vv. 19-20), people spurn their Creator who deserves their worship (vv. 21-22), and people substitute an idol for the living God (v. 23).
2. It is because mankind has rejected God and turned to idolatry that three times in vv. 24-32 (vv. 24, 26, and 28) we are told that “God gave them over.” The Greek word translated “gave …over” (paredoken) here means to abandon, consign, or confirm by God.
3. It Scripture this word is used in different ways, such as: God giving over Israel’s enemies to them in defeat (Ex. 23:31; Deut. 7:23), God giving over Israel to their enemies because of their sin (Lev. 26:25; Josh. 7:7; Judg. 2:14; 6:1, 13; Job 2:6; Ps. 81:12; Acts 7:42), and even God giving over His Son to atoning death (Rom. 4:25; 8:32).
4. Now this is not God’s final wrath upon mankind whereby He gives them up forever. This is God’s personal and deliberate acts of present judgment whereby He abandons people to the sin they have already chosen to substitute for Him.
5. God’s holy wrath is continuously being revealed today in the natural consequences of sin for violating God’s moral laws. But when people abandon God and continually “give themselves over” (Eph. 4:19) to sin, eventually God’s patience runs out and He abandons them to the terrible cycle of ever-increasing sin whereby they plunge deeper and deeper into the enslavement of sin.
6. Although God is never the author of sin (Jam. 1:13), in His mercy He punishes people by handing them over to the very sin they have chosen in order to drive them to despair as they “hit bottom,” so that they might not only hate their sin, but turn to Jesus Christ in saving faith for deliverance and healing (Isa. 19:22).
7. Now notice in v. 24 that Paul describes the actual condition and character of people in the phrase “…in the lusts of their hearts.” Last time we saw (v. 21) that the “heart” (kardia) is the mission control center of man’s entire inner life, including the mind, will, and emotions.
8. The word “lusts” (epithumia) refers to strong passionate longings, cravings, or desires, whether good or bad. In this context, these are the evil desires for forbidden pleasure.
9. Here we see that when people are immersed in their lustful, evil desires, God gives them over…to impurity.” The word “impurity” (akatharsian) means “uncleanness,” and usually refers to or is associated with sexual immorality (2 Cor. 12:21; Gal. 5A:19; Eph. 5:3; Col. 3:5; 1 Thess. 4:7).
10. This involves all kinds of sinful sexual activity that violate God’s intended design for sex within marriage, reserved only for a husband and wife. Therefore, God’s punishment fits man’s crime—more impurity is the punishment to those who are impure.
11. C. E. B. Cranfield describes God’s giving people over to sexual immorality as “…the prison to which they have been delivered.” (pg. 122)
12. This is exactly what it is as people become “addicted” or enslaved and incarcerated in sexual sin. This is rampant today!
13. Notice the result of this sexual impurity or immorality in people’s lives is, “…that their bodies might be dishonored among them.” The word “dishonored” (atimazesthai) means disgraced and shamed.
14. People cannot give themselves to sexual sins and go unscathed. Not only do they defile their own bodies, but they also become vulnerable to all kinds of sexually transmitted diseases as a result of their sin.
15. This is why believers are exhorted in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God.”
B. Paul then shows the ultimate reason why God abandoned them to sexual immorality in v. 25: 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.
1. The word “exchanged” (metēllaxan) here is intensified and means to “really” change, replace or substitute. Not only did they substitute the glory of the incorruptible God for a corruptible idol (v. 23), but they “surely” substituted the “truth of God” that He revealed about Himself in creation (vv. 19-21), for “a lie.”
2. Now in the Greek, this is literally “the lie,” which Paul goes on to define as idolatry when he says, “…and worshiped and served the creature rather than (or “instead of”) the Creator…” To reject God, who is the Father of truth, people automatically become vulnerable to Satan, who is the father of lies (Jn. 8:44).
3. The same lie that Adam and Eve fell for in the garden is the one that the entire human race has bought into. It is Satan’s lie of idolatry whereby people substitute some aspect of God’s creation—whether it be a person, an animal, or a material object—in place of the living God and to believe that it can satisfy our soul (Isa. 44:20; Jer. 13:25; 2 Thess. 2:11; Rev. 21:27; 22:15).
4. But what a horrible exchange! “The lie” of idolatry is always “a lie” in reality, because although it promises satisfaction and fulfillment it ultimately delivers only emptiness and destruction (Jer. 2:5). And nowhere is this seen more clearly than in sexual sin.
5. Now having just stated mankind’s failure to glorify “the Creator” and turning to idols, as a believer Paul can’t help but burst forth to counteract it in a doxology and spontaneously praises the Creator saying, “…who is blessed forever. Amen.”
6. The word “Amen” literally means “So let it be.” This is a worshipful affirmation that God’s intrinsic and unchangeable blessedness is truly forever.
7. The second divine punishment on mankind is being:
II. Abandoned to Shameful Homosexuality
A. Look at v. 26: For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions… (Stop there)
1. Paul begins with, “For this reason.” Since people have substituted “the lie” of idolatry for the truth of God and worship and serve the creature instead of the Creator, we are told a second time that “God gave them over.”
2. This time notice that God abandoned them “to degrading passions.” The word “passions” (pathe) refers to desires and affections.
3. And since they are described as “degrading” (atimias), which means dishonorable, disgraceful, and shameful, it shows that these are illicit sexual passions.
4. Paul goes on to explain in vv. 26-27 exactly what these degrading passions are that people are already immersed in and God gave them over to.
B. Look at vv. 26-27: …for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts… (Stop there)
1. These were the degrading passions of shameful homosexuality, also known as sodomy. Homosexuality was as widespread in Paul’s day as it is in ours.
2. Remember that Paul is writing this letter from Corinth, and the Greeks taught that homosexual love was the purest and highest of loves. And it was no different in Rome, for fourteen of the first fifteen Roman Emperors were homosexuals.
3. Now the words “women” and “men” in vv. 26-27 are literally “females” (theleiai) and “males” (arsenes) in the Greek because Paul is stressing here the distinction between the sexes. He is taking us back to God’s creation of mankind not only as human being, but as sexual beings.
4. Genesis 1:27 says, “God created man (i.e. human beings) in His own image, in the image of God He created him (i.e. mankind); male and female, he created them.” Notice that these are explicitly gender terms.
5. God’s original design at creation was that human beings be either male or female. Therefore, sexuality is the result of creation not culture.
6. Maleness and femaleness not only decorates our body; it defines our soul. We are born either a male soul or a female soul and our physical body merely reveals who God made us to be. Therefore, those who go as far as changing their body (i.e. sex change) still never change who God created them to be in their soul.
7. Now Paul first addresses homosexuality among females, which is known as lesbianism. He says in v. 26, “…their females exchanged the natural function (phusiken—referring to God’s intended design for sex within marriage with their husbands) for that which is unnatural” (or “against nature” [para phusin]—against their God-given sexuality and His intended design), referring to their lesbian behavior.
8. Paul then addresses the males in v. 27, “…and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman (again violating God’s intended design) and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts… (Stop there)
9. The intensity of their degrading passion is indicated by the word “burned” (exekauthēsan), which means to be inflamed, set on fire, and consumed by. These men were inflamed “…in their desire for one another, men with men committing (present tense—continuously) indecent (aschemosunen—or shameful) acts…” of homosexuality.
10. Now because of their sin, Paul says at the end of v. 27, “…and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.” The word “error” here refers to straying off course from their God-given sexuality and His intended design at creation for sex within marriage, reserved only for a husband and wife (Gen. 2:21-24; Matt. 19:4-6: Mk. 10:7-8; 1 Cor. 6:16; 7:1-7; Eph. 5:31).
11. And although Paul doesn’t say what their “due (or necessary) penalty” is, it may simply be the sin of homosexuality itself or all of the dreadful mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, and eternal consequences of such a heinous sin.
C. Therefore, in these two verses God makes it perfectly clear that homosexuality is a violation of His created design and intention for male and female.
1. There is no way that anyone can honestly read these verses and claim that homosexuality is an acceptable alternative lifestyle, at least not with God! John Stott said it well, “…God created humankind male and female; God instituted marriage as a heterosexual union; and what God has thus united, we have no liberty to separate. This threefold action of God established that the only context which he intends for the ‘one flesh’ experience is heterosexual monogamy, and that a homosexual partnership (however loving and committed it may claim to be) is ‘against nature’ and can never be regarded as a legitimate alternative to marriage.” (pg. 78)
2. Throughout Scripture homosexuality is seen to be against God’s will and brings His condemnation (Gen. 19:1-28; Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Deut. 23:17-18; Judg. 19:22-24; 1 Kgs. 14:24; 15:12; 22:46; 2 Kgs. 23:7; Isa. 1:9-10; 3:9; Jer. 23:14; Lam. 4:6; Ez. 16:43-58; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Eph. 4:19; 1 Tim. 1:10; 2 Pet. 2:6; Jude 7; Rev. 9:21; 21:8; 22:15).
3. In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 we read, “…do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, will inherit the kingdom of God.”
4. Therefore, on the authority of God’s Word even if a person “professes” to be a Christian if he continues to practice a homosexual lifestyle he or she is not a true Christian and will not go to heaven, regardless of what some evangelicals claim today. Now this doesn’t mean that true Christians cannot struggle with homosexual temptations deeply rooted within them, but they will not give themselves over to and continue habitually in this sin.
5. Since homosexuality is a sin not a sickness, like every other sin it can only be remedied through the gospel of Jesus Christ. This happened with some of the Corinthians, for Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:11, “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”
6. No matter what sin people may be enslaved by, there is always hope in Jesus Christ!
7. The third divine punishment on mankind is being:
III. Abandoned to Shocking Depravity
A. Look at v. 28: And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper.
1. For the third time we see that “God gave them over,” this time “to a depraved mind.” The word “depraved” (adokimon) was a term commonly used of metals that were rejected by refiners because of impurities and discarded.
2. Therefore, it means to not stand the test, to be useless, unfit, unapproved, disqualified, reprobate, and worthless.
3. Notice that God gave them over to a depraved mind because “…they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer.” Paul intends a play on words here.
4. Just as they thought acknowledging God in their lives was unfit and worthless, God gave them over to an unfit and worthless mind. Once again the punishment fits the crime.
5. Describing the “depraved mind,” C. E. B. Crainfield says it best in that this “…is a mind so debilitated and corrupted as to be a quite untrustworthy guide in moral decisions.” (pg. 128)
6. Paul goes on to say that the result of having a depraved mind is, “…to do (present tense—continually) those things which are not proper” (kathekonta), in other words, morally wrong and unacceptable.
7. He then lists twenty-one examples of sinful attitudes and actions that are “not proper” in vv. 29-31. This list describes a shocking depravity that flows out of a depraved mind and is the cause behind all kinds of social ills and inhumanity.
8. Now this is not an exhaustive list for there are other lists of sins elsewhere in Scripture (Matt. 15:19; Mk. 7:20-23; Rom. 13:13; 1 Cor. 5:10-11; 6:9-10; 2 Cor. 12:20; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 4:31; 5:3-5; Col. 3:5, 8; 1 Tim. 1:9-10; 2 Tim. 3:2-5; Tit. 3:3; 1 Pet. 2:1; 4:3).
9. Also, there is no rigid logical arrangement of all these sins nor can each term always be given a distinct meaning from every other term, for some are virtually synonymous, and there is a considerable degree of overlap in meaning.
B. However, this list can be divided into three groups.
1. The first group consists of four sins and is introduced by the words “being filled with” (pepleromenous), which means to be filled to the brim, and saturated. These people are not half-hearted about their sin, but are wholly given over to it.
• Look at v. 29: “Being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil.
• Although the KJV includes the word “fornication,” it is not in the best Greek manuscripts so is omitted. Paul probably excluded sexual sins from his list because he had already addressed this earlier in this passage (vv. 24, 26-27).
2. The second group consists of five sins and is introduced by the words “full of” (mestous), which means to be stuffed with. Again these people are given over to these sins.
• Look again at v. 29, “…full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice.
3. The third group consists of the last twelve sins and is introduced by the words “they are,” referring to those whom God has given over.
• Paul says at the end of v. 29, “…they are gossips, (Verse 30) slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding (i.e. no moral perception), untrustworthy (i.e. agreement breakers, not true to one’s word), unloving (i.e. without natural affection for family members), unmerciful.”
4. Now obviously, not every unbeliever commits all of these sins, and has been “given over” to these sins, but these naturally flow from a depraved heart and mind (Jer. 17:9). This is why this list of sins was not only true of Paul’s day, but also reads like today’s headlines.
C. Paul then describes the shocking depth and full weight of human depravity in v. 32: And although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things (as listed in vv. 24-31) are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.
1. First of all, no one can claim ignorance because they already “know the ordinance (or righteous decree) of God, that those who practice (present tense—characteristically and habitually) such things are worthy of death.” Death in every way—physically, spiritually, and eternally.
2. But even in spite of knowing God’s disapproval of their sinful behavior and their deserved death, “…they not only do (present tense—continuously) the same, but also give hearty approval (present tense—continuously) to those who practice them.
3. The word “approval” (suneudokousin) here means to agree with, consent to, applaud, and encourage. The shocking depth of depravity is when people not only continue to do the things they know are wrong and deserve God’s judgment for, but also keep on encouraging others to follow their example and applaud them when they do.
4. Thomas Schreiner said it well, “Those who encourage others to pursue evil commit a great evil in that they foment the spread of evil and are complicit in the destruction of others. (pg. 100)
In closing, three divine punishments on mankind for failing to glorify God and turning to idols are being: Abandoned to sexual immorality, shameful homosexuality, and shocking depravity. But in seeing the ugliness of man’s depravity we better understand the beauty of God’s grace for only God can rescue us.
And that is exactly what He did in the Person of Jesus Christ. In the pitch black darkness of man’s spiritual deadness and blindness, 2,000 years ago a great light of hope shone forth in the city of Bethlehem (Isa. 9:2) as the angels’ declared at Jesus’ birth in Luke 2:11, “For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
Jesus Christ was born to die on the cross and, as our Substitute, took upon Himself the holy wrath of God against sin that we deserved. It doesn’t matter how sinful we may be, God is willing to save anyone who comes to Jesus Christ in saving faith. There is always hope in Jesus, even until one’s dying breath. For “…where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom. 5:20). Have you received Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and Lord?
May our understanding of how much God hates sin cause us as believers to not only recommit ourselves to live more holy lives by the grace of God, but also be more faithful in sharing the light of the Good News of salvation in Christ to a dark and dying world.