1:22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools.NRSV Paul continues his description of the inevitable results of the denial of God by stating that even though thinking will become futile and hearts will be darkened, some people will still claim to be wise. Without answers based on the reality of God, people seek heroes among those who will boldly say there are no answers. Under such circumstances, it is seen as a sign of sophistication and intelligence to refuse to acknowledge God’s existence. But by biblical definition, anyone saying he or she cannot believe there is a God, or refusing to believe in God, is admitting to being a fool. The psalmist expressed it: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God'” (Psalm 14:1 niv). The evidence of God’s existence is so plain and clear that to ignore it is totally foolish.
To some people, statements like these by Paul appear to be out of line because they appear to be intolerant of other religions and views. The objection is often voiced in a question: “Well, after all, the point is that people are naturally somewhat religious; so isn’t the most important thing not what religion you follow, but that you follow some religion?” The fallacy behind the question is that it still assumes that man is at the center, not God. The emphasis is not on believing what is true but on believing. Paul was speaking in a world that was inundated with gods. He would have been horrified to think that anyone would understand him to be saying that a little religion is a good thing! To Paul, even a lot of religion was bad if it was not true.
Christianity does not try (though some have tried in its name) to legislate people into being Christians. But while Christians know they cannot force anyone to believe, they are, with Paul, unashamed to claim that Jesus Christ is the answer. We may not coerce, but we must try to convince!
1:23 Exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images.NRSV Whether they claim it or not, people are religious beings. By their very nature, they are bound to worship and serve something beyond themselves. It may be another idea of God, a person, a thing, or even some false notion that no God exists. Anyone who rejects the Creator will end up worshiping the creature. And how foolish that they turn their backs on the Creator in order to worship something created, something that can die, decay, and disappoint.
Images resembling a mortal human being.NRSV In other words, a human being may be worshiped instead of God. But God is immortal—incorruptible, imperishable; the images are mortal—liable to decay. Some of these images not only looked like humans; they were humans. Such was the case in ancient Rome, where some of the Caesars were worshiped as gods. In our (lay, modem paganism subtly worships its human images—certain people and their power. Paul shows how the scale of images descends from man to birds and animals and reptiles.NIV Whether the images were created by man out of wood, stone, or metal or are humans raised to the status of gods, they lacked the glory that belongs only to God. These manufactured gods might inspire fear or reverence, but they clearly do not deserve worship. And because: they were created by humans, they owe their existence to humans. This places people in control of their own gods. Faced with God’s glory, humans know who is in control. This God is not an invention of human thought or hands. He is the one who reveals himself to human beings in such a way that people realize they are, themselves, merely pale images of the majestic being that is God. He alone is to be worshiped.
How can intelligent people turn to idolatry? Idolatry begins when people reject what they know about God. Instead of looking to him as the Creator and sustainer of life, they see themselves as the center of the universe. They soon invent gods that are convenient projections of their own selfish plans and decrees. These gods may be wooden figures, or they may be things we desire—such as money, power, or comfort. They may even be misrepresentations of God himself—a result of making God in their image, instead of the reverse. The common denominator is this: Idolaters worship the things God made rather than God himself. It is a tendency that we must constantly watch for in ourselves.
|Here are some questions to help you see if your attitudes are like idolatry.|
|· Who created you?|
|· Whom do you ultimately trust?|
|· To whom do you look for ultimate truth?|
|· To whom do you look for security and happiness?|
|· Who is in charge of your future?|
|· What do you think you can’t live without?|
|· Who do you think you can’t live without?|
|· What priority in your life is greater than God?|
|· What dream would you sacrifice everything to realize?|
|· Is God first place in your life?|
1:24 God gave them over in the sinful desires.NIV The point that God gave them over is repeated twice (1:26, 28). God left those who spurned him to their own desires. Without his guidance, they degenerated into ruinous moral practices. As Paul’s thoughts unfold, he pictures God releasing people to sinful desires, “shameful lusts” (1:26) and “a depraved mind” (1:28). This rush into sinful patterns can be seen in societies as well as in individuals. When people and nations refuse to repent, sin takes over and draws people into a life where there is no sense of right and wrong. Without God’s remedy, his righteousness, the end is destruction. Because Paul’s purpose is to expound on the “righteousness from God” (1:17), he focuses on present, ongoing consequences of sin, rather than the ultimate results. Here and in the list to follow, Paul is essentially saying, “Look around! The evidences are everywhere that God, in his wrath, is allowing sinful nature to run its course. Humanity is in trouble!”
|Sinful desires (epithumia) is not simply a term implying sexual desire. It is sometimes translated “lusts” (1:24 nrsv) and sometimes translated “coveting” (7:7). In the Greek Old Testament, epithumia is used in the tenth commandment, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor”||I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of Hell are locked on the inside. They enjoy forever the horrible freedom they have demanded, and are therefore self-enslaved just as the blessed, forever submitting to obedience, become through all eternity more and more free.
C. S. Lewis
For the degrading of their bodies with one another.NIV Any kind of sexual behavior that deviates from that originally designed by God devalues the God-given use of our bodies.
God does not vindictively cast rebels into sin or stop giving love and instead dole out suffering and punishment. But if people persist in fleeing from God, he loves them enough to grant them their wish, though it is not his ultimate purpose. With the restraints removed, sometimes the consequences of rebellion will cause people to reconsider God.
Here Paul introduces the subject of sexual impurity. He returns to it in verses 26 and 27. The context indicates that he is referring in part to cultic prostitution and the fertility cults that made use of temple prostitutes in their rites. Throughout history, paganism has shown a remarkable capacity for substituting the pursuit of sexual pleasure for the pursuit of holiness. Rejection of God is often accompanied by deification of sex or reproduction. Paul, writing from Corinth, the home of the temple of Aphrodite, was surrounded by evidences of the horrible evil of such belief (see also 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 2 Corinthians 12:21). Because people ignored their innate awareness of godly restraints, personal desire became the standard of behavior. Paul did not hesitate to point out the devastating effects of sin on the most personal aspects of human life. Without God’s righteousness, wrong rules.
Because sex is such a powerful and essential part of what it means to be human, it must be treated with great respect. Sexual desires are of such importance that the Bible gives them special attention and counsels more careful restraint and self-control than with any other desire. One of the clearest indicators of a society or person in rebellion against God is the rejection of God’s guidelines for the use of sex.
1:25 Exchanged the truth about God for a lie.NRSV Just as people exchanged the glory of God for lackluster images (1:23), they also traded what can be known about God for a deliberate distortion. This lie is the belief that something or someone is to be worshiped in place of the one true God. This is what will ultimately lead to the end of the world—people will follow and worship the man of lawlessness who will lead them to destruction (2 Thessalonians 2:3-12).
People tend to believe lies that reinforce their own selfish personal beliefs. Today more than ever we need to be careful about the input we allow to form our beliefs. With TV, music, movies, and the rest of the media often presenting sinful lifestyles and unwholesome values, we find ourselves constantly bombarded by attitudes and beliefs totally opposed to the Bible. Be careful about what you allow to form your opinions. The Bible is the only standard of truth. Evaluate all other opinions in light of its teachings.
Worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.NIV These people have completely turned their back on God and replaced him with other objects. And what they have decided about God will decide their character and lifestyle. Some people are extremely devoted to their self-made gods. It was to very religious people that Jesus said, “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire” (John 8:44 niv).
Who is forever praised. Amen.NIV Although many may refuse to acknowledge God’s existence, that doesn’t change the truth of his existence and the fact that he will indeed be forever praised. God’s worthiness to be praised is not affected by human beings’ rebellion or their poor choices. God will be praised forever, though there are many who, by their deliberate exchange of truth for lies, will not be present to participate.
1:26-27 For this reason.NKJV Paul has just finished describing in general terms what happens to people who do not acknowledge God’s law as the standard for moral behavior. They turn from their Maker and worship what has been made, sometimes including themselves.
There have always been those willing to believe that human desires are self-regulating. They do not believe that any action they enjoy could possibly be wrong. They believe that people would not really desire something unless it was good for them. Somehow the fact that every person has violated that principle escapes them. The more blatant examples of evil are considered exceptions rather than the rule. In so doing, they make every person an exception, for as Paul writes later, “All have sinned” (3:23). When our wants become our ruler and our desires our authority, we quickly become slaves to the next appealing offer.
God gave them over to shameful lusts. Unlike verse 24, where God is described as releasing people to pursue their sinful desires,
|Paul is now speaking specifically about immoral relations. When the desire for the true God is rejected, other gods are raised up. When the desire for God is rejected, other desires take control. Why are shameful lusts the result? When people refuse God and his standards, when they are left to themselves as their own gods, nothing can stop them from seeking to fulfill their passions. Paul indicates that sexual passion, out of control, leads to shameful lusts and other destructive results (see 1:29-31).||And yet, temptations can be useful to us even though they seem to cause us nothing but pain. They are useful because they can make us humble, they can cleanse us, and they can teach us. All of the saints passed through times of temptation and tribulation, and they used them to make progress in the spiritual life. Those who did not deal with temptations successfully fell to the wayside.
Thomas à Kempis
Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones . . . The men also abandoned natural relations.NIV Not only was shameful lust the result, but perversions of sex became rampant. God’s plan for natural sexual relationships is his ideal for his creation. It is the height of foolishness to think that any sex act is acceptable as long as “no one gets hurt.”
Paul’s treatment of homosexual behavior falls in the middle of two other major areas that he presents as evidence of the “godlessness and wickedness of men,” (1:18). The first is sinful worship; the third is a whole list of personal and relational sins. It is important to note that Paul is using homosexual practices to indicate the extent to which sin has brought chaos into every area of life. He writes that as a result of shameful lusts, no person, relationship, or part of creation has been left untouched. (See 7:7ff. for more on lusts, and 8:18ff. for more on sin’s effect on creation.) There is no hint here of a hierarchy of sin, with pagan worship being at the bottom, followed by homosexual practice, followed by “lesser sins.” All sins grow out of human rebellion against God. The fact of sinfulness is a much more important discovery for a person to make than recognizing the particular acting out of that sinfulness. Repentance and restoration comes more quickly from the question, “What must I do to be saved?” than from the question, “Exactly how deeply have I sinned in comparison with any one else?”
Homosexuality (to exchange or abandon natural relations of sex) was as widespread in Paul’s day as it is in ours. Many pagan practices encouraged it. God is willing to receive anyone who comes to him in faith, and Christians should love and accept others no matter what their background. But homosexual behavior is strictly forbidden in Scripture (see Leviticus 18:22). Paul is writing this letter from Corinth, a city infamous for deviant sexual behaviors. According to 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, some of the Corinthian believers may have been converted out of a homosexual lifestyle. Paul was able to say of them and many other sinners (i.e., adulterers, thieves, drunkards, the greedy), “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11 niv).
Homosexuality is considered an acceptable practice by many in our world today—even by some churches. But society does not set the standard for God’s law. Many homosexuals believe that their desires are normal and that they have a right to express them. But God does not obligate nor encourage us to fulfill all of our desires (even normal ones). Desires that violate God’s laws must be controlled. God offers freedom from those sins through Jesus Christ and power to control our desires through the Holy Spirit.
Received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.NIV Sin has a penalty, and the punishment is in keeping with the offense. The natural result of a person’s sin pays that person back for what he or she has done. The exact consequences of sin are not predictable, but they are inevitable. These people cannot call themselves helpless victims; a sinful choice was made, and it carries its penalty. Unfortunately, the due penalty also has a way of spilling over into other lives. The connectedness of everything in creation makes it almost impossible to confine sinful penalties. Often a truly painful consequence is seeing how a sin we unleashed effects others.
A law broods over human existence, a law which is at the same time a divine act: Such as thou makest thy God, such wilt thou make thyself. – Godet
1:28 They did not like to retain God in their knowledge.NKJV Humans sat in judgment on God to decide whether he fit the qualifications of a God that would be to their liking; they decided he did not meet those qualifications and so dismissed him from their lives. They had the knowledge (they were not ignorant), but they did not want to use it.
In our own times we have seen a belittling of God as no more than a pale extension of our wishful thinking, someone made in our image. Yet those most vocal in condemning the authoritative Christian view of God have been busy at work creating people who think of themselves as gods. Paul’s discussion is not out of date. The same rebellion against God is alive in the human heart.
He gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.NIV For the third time, Paul describes God’s action as “giving them over.” Each time, the action is introduced by recalling humanity’s rebellion against God.
Each expression serves as an outline point under Paul’s main theme, which is to explain the ways that the “wrath of God is being revealed” (1:18) in the lives of people. This last time, Paul introduces a host of behaviors which demonstrate that human behavior is a result of man’s way of thinking becoming depraved.
People do not turn away from God all at once; there is a progression. They may have started with some knowledge of God, but then they chose not to glorify him nor thank him. This led to questions and doubts that led them to no longer recognize God as God—they refused “to retain the knowledge of God” (niv). And when they chose to reject God, God allowed them to do it. Their minds became depraved, and they lost the ability to distinguish between right and wrong. When the conscience is perverted, there is little hope. To do what ought not to be done indicates that the people were doing things not just offensive to God, but also offensive by human standards.
God does not usually stop us from making choices against his will. He lets us declare our supposed independence from him, even though he knows that in time we will become slaves to our own rebellious choices—we will lose our freedom not to sin. Does life without God look like freedom to you? Look more closely. There is no worse slavery than slavery to sin.
1:29-31 Filled with . . . The term suggests a state of being filled to the point of overflowing. Once the mind of man had become depraved (1:28), it followed that the creative power of thought was turned to the pursuit of evil. Paul listed over twenty different ways in which the mind can be focused once it has turned away from God. (For similar lists, see 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21; and Colossians 3:5.) The following catalog may not be in any particular order, but it emphasizes the extent of the evidence against humanity. Who cannot find in himself more than one among these qualities (quoted from niv)?
Every kind of wickedness—The opposite of righteousness, the absence of justice.
Evil—What is sinister and vile.
Greed—Relentless urge to get more for oneself.
Depravity—A condition of moral evil.
Envy—Desire for something possessed by another.
Murder—Greed, envy, and strife, left unchecked, could lead even to killing another in order to obtain what is desired.
Strife—Competition, rivalry, bitter conflict.
Deceit—To trick or mislead by lying.
Malice—Doing evil despite the good that has been received.
Gossips—They create problems by rehashing idle talk or rumors concerning others’ private affairs.
Slanderers—Destroy another’s good reputation.
God-haters—Not only do they ignore God; some actively hate him and attempt to work against any of his influences.
Insolent—Arrogant behavior toward those who are not powerful enough to fight back. This particularly refers to a person’s attempt to shame another without mercy.
Arrogant and boastful—Making claims of superior intelligence or importance.
Invent ways of doing evil—Trying new kinds of perversions.
Disobey their parents—When God’s authority is tossed aside as worthless, parental authority cannot be far behind. How unfortunate that the parents, in many cases, had set the example. By ignoring God’s authority, they set the example for the children to ignore parental authority.
Senseless—Unable to discern spiritual and moral things.
Faithless—Not keeping one’s promises or doing one’s duties; unreliable, untrustworthy.
The principle of holiness leads to the exhortation, “Be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is the will of God” (Romans 12:2). It is a very important consideration that we are consecrated and dedicated to God. It means that we will think, speak, meditate, and do all things with a view to God’s glory. John Calvin
Heartless—Unfeeling, unkind, harsh, cruel.
Ruthless—Without pity or compassion; merciless.
1:32 They know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die.NRSV In the previous verses Paul pointed out several different ways that God “gives people up” to pursue their desires. He was convinced that each person in rebellion against God perceives the final outcome of that rebellion. But even the finality of death is ignored by many.
How did they know of God’s death penalty? Human beings, created in God’s image, have a basic moral nature and a conscience. This truth is understood beyond religious circles. Psychologists, for example, say that the rare person who has no conscience has a serious personality disorder, one that is extremely difficult to treat. Most people instinctively know when they do wrong—but they may not care. Some people will even risk an early death for the freedom to indulge their desires now. I know it’s wrong, but I really want it,” or “I know it’s dangerous, but it’s worth the risk.” For such people, part of the “fun” is going against God’s law, the community’s moral standards, common sense, or their own sense of right and wrong. But deep down inside they know that sin deserves the death penalty (6:23).
Having rejected God and his standard, people turn to a variety of sources for authority to back up what they want to do. Here are some of the most common “moralities” vying for our attention:
Having rejected God and his standard, people turn to a variety of sources for authority to back up what they want to do. Here are some of the most common “moralities” vying for our attention:
- Statistical morality. This approach depends on accepting the premise that the right thing to do is what most people are doing. Its motto is Everybody Is Doing It! Statistical morality makes extensive use of opinion polls, talk shows, and telephone surveys. The approach practically guarantees that a person can do just about anything he or she wants to do and claim personal morality.
- Emotional morality. This approach relies heavily on feelings. What feels good is right, and what feels bad is wrong. The term that most accurately describes the spirit behind this “morality” is selfishness. Emotional morality rejects almost any action that involves personal sacrifice.
- Situational morality. Also called make-it-up-as-you-go-along morality, situational morality relies on the belief that a person can figure out on the spot how they should behave, rather than having a decided standard of behavior in force in every situation. The worst experience for a situationalist is to be at the mercy of another situationalist.
- Sensitive morality. This approach to morality accepts the idea that there are no absolute standards of right and wrong, only personal standards. Holders of this position believe in minding their own morality and not questioning or contradicting the behavior of others. Sensitive moralists never offend anyone. They believe that each person has a right to his or her personal morality and not even God should dare to interfere.
Continue to do these very things . . . approve of those who practice them.NIV Not only have they turned their backs on God and realized that their deeds deserve the ultimate penalty of death; they also are continuing in their sin and encouraging it in others. The fierce defense of certain lifestyles should not surprise us. People in rebellion against God have a lot at stake. Agreeing in any way with God’s analysis of their lives would require them to repent, to change. It is not unusual for us to reinforce our own choices, good or bad, by urging others to make the same choices. Even when we are not sure we have made the right choices, convincing others to do what we have done increases our sense of security. In response, God’s Word reminds us that gaining the whole world, or convincing many others that we are right, means nothing if our Creator says we are wrong. Claiming our way is right in the face of God’s disagreement places us in danger of losing our soul. Jesus said, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” (Luke 9:25 niv).
The cause for the appalling condition of our world—the horrible perversions and the rampant evil—lies in people’s rebellion against God. Although knowledge of God is accessible, people turn their backs on it, close their minds to it, and go their own way, worshiping whatever they choose. With this stroke, Paul places the final touches on the dismal picture of man’s condition apart from God. From here, he will move on to deal with those who might use their knowledge of God as an excuse for missing his righteousness.