By Mark Scott
“There is none so blind as he who will not see.” Today’s text describes a descent into depravity. Paul’s summation of the gospel is Romans 1:16, 17—the transforming power of Christ’s faithfulness to everyone. But before that transforming power can be effectual, sin must be acknowledged. This is Paul’s argument in Romans 1:18–3:20. The depravity factor must be admitted. The old adage, “You have to get them lost before you can get them saved” rings true here. Paul traced (primarily for his Gentile readers) what happens when God’s plain truth is ignored.
Chaos & Confusion
The built-in wrath of God appears when people suppress the truth by their wickedness. God has wired the universe in such a way that when his truth is ignored (“worked down”) two kinds of chaos break out.
The first kind of chaos is the rejection of natural revelation. God reveals himself in general ways—creation (Psalm 19:1-6) and humanity (Psalm 8:4-6)—and in special ways—Scripture (Psalm 19:7-11) and Jesus (John 14:9). God’s very nature (his eternal power and divine nature) have been discerned by what God made (where we get the word poem and only occurs elsewhere in the New Testament in Ephesians 2:10 about believers). Creation does tell us of God’s nature, provided that people do not sweep God’s truth under the carpet.
The second kind of chaos is the acceptance of idolatry. At the end of the day idolatry is not only breaking the first of the Ten Commandments, it is also moronic. Even though people know God they do not glorify him or give thanks to him. They have futile minds and dark hearts. Alan Ahlgrim calls it “stinkin’ thinkin’.” When the Creator’s glory is rejected, the only recourse is to worship creation and self. People who suppress truth from God end up turning totally inward.
Gender confusion is another digression when God’s truth is ignored. This is such a delicate subject today. Sexual identity is the defining issue of the current culture. The church can so easily be accused of being homophobic. No true follower of Jesus wants to be gender prejudiced. But we must read the biblical text on its own terms. Let the text say what the author intended to say. While there are many ways to read this text, the most natural reading of the text seems to be that ongoing, habitual homosexual activity (different than feelings or thoughts) is not God’s original intention. Homosexual activity is not a recent phenomenon. Paul was well aware of it at the highest levels of the Roman government. (See The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius.)
Sexual impurity, shameful lusts, and a depraved mind are places God allows people to go when they ignore his truth. God does not give up on people, but he does give them over to things if people so choose. God is a gentleman of the highest order. He will allow individual autonomy but maintains consequences for all our sinful choices.
As goes the brain, so goes the behavior. The depraved mind is the final digression when God’s truth is ignored. Essentially Hell will be a place where everyone will do his or her own thing. This is total chaos. One of Paul’s favorite subgenres is lists. They can be virtue lists (Galatians 5:22-24; Colossians 3:12, 13) or vice lists (Colossians 3:8; 2 Timothy 3:1-9). This text contains one of Paul’s longest vice lists and it defies too much categorization. Some vices seem to go together (murder and strife, deceit and malice, arrogant and boastful). Some vices are general (wickedness, depravity and God-haters). Some vices are specific (gossips, slanderers, and disobedient to parents). Some vices are stated in parallel ways (no understanding, no fidelity, no love, and no mercy).
Verse 32 indicates the depths to which humans sink when ignoring God’s truth. Seth Wilson said, “Do not be surprised when the ‘natural’ man acts ‘natural.’” But I still am surprised.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2012, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.