One of the disadvantages of an expositional, verse by verse style of preaching is that sometimes you find yourself having to deal with a passage of scripture that you would rather not have to deal with. Charles Spurgeon said of this passage that it was not worthy of public discussion. He refused to preach from this text because he felt that it was too upsetting to proper decorum.
While I might sympathize with him, I ultimately feel that I must recognize that if God felt comfortable talking about it, and Paul felt comfortable enough writing about it, so that it would be read in the church, I must be faithful to expound the Word of God as I come to it and not gloss over or skip passages that I don’t find appealing for some reason.
So with the adage of “fools rush in where angel’s fear to tread” ringing in my ears, I will try to be faithful to the word of God, and yet not overstate what God has said, or supplement what God has not said.
Now then as we come to this passage it is more important than ever to place it in the proper context. Paul is writing a letter, and so there can be a danger in isolating this passage or any passage and taking it out of context. If we are going to make something more out of it than what was intended it will come about more than likely by virtue of taking it out of context. When we do that, we risk making more of it than it was originally intended.
So then the context of Paul’s message so far is really understood by verse 18. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” From this point on, Paul is going to reveal man’s unrighteousness. And so that is the title of my sermon. Unrighteousness revealed.
If you back up a verse, then you see the the opposite statement; righteousness revealed. Vs17 “For in it [the] righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘BUT THE RIGHTEOUS [man] SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.’” So in vs 17 the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel by faith.
Then in vs 18, the unrighteousness of man is revealed. Now actually, Paul says the wrath of God has been revealed against unrighteousness. Remember we said last week that God’s wrath was revealed by death. The curse of death is upon all men and even upon all of creation. And he says that death, or wrath, is due to sin or unrighteousness. So sin is unrighteousness. Notice Paul uses the word unrighteousness twice in vs 18 as if to emphasize that sin is the cause of God’s wrath. As the scripture says, the wages of sin is death.
So I think in context then, Paul goes on to reveal the unrighteousness of men. He begins to show in detail how unrighteous men are. And this is going to continue for quite a while. His argument comes to it’s climax in chapter 3 vs 10 when he declares by quoting an Old Testament text, “There is none righteous, no not one.” Paul’s purpose is to show the exceeding sinfulness of sin. His purpose is to take away all supports from both Jews and Gentiles, to show all as deserving the wrath of God, because all are sinners, and all sin qualifies for the penalty of death.
And furthermore, Paul shows in this text the progression of sin. The Bible makes it clear that we are born in our sins, we are born into a body of death. We are born with a sin nature that we inherited from our father Adam. Romans 5:12 says, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.” Man sins because he is a sinner. Because he was born a sinner. It’s what John Calvin calls the total depravity of man.
David said in Psalm 51:5 “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.”
But though that is our natural condition, there is also a natural progression to sin, going from bad to worse. That’s why Jesus made the case in the Sermon on the Mount that hatred constituted murder, lust constituted adultery. There is a natural progression to sin that the Lord equates to that of a little leaven (which represents sin) corrupting an entire lump of dough.
So Paul gives five steps in this downward progression of sin. He starts in vs 19 with revelation. God revealed Himself to man by means of His creation. The second step is rejection, vs 21. “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.” They rejected the truth. The third step in their progression is rationalization. Verse 22, “Professing to be wise they became fools.” They thought they were smarter than God.
The fourth step of their downward progression in sin is religion. Vs.23, they “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.” Idolatry in all it’s forms is man’s religion of choice. In effect, he worships himself, making God in his image, and puts forth his priorities and his desires as being acceptable to God.
And that leads to the last step, reprobation. Vs. 24, God gives them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity. Three times Paul says, God gave them over, in vs 24, in vs 26, and vs28. What it means is that they reach a point in their rebellion where God gives them over to their desires or lusts. He abandons them to their lust. He stops striving with them. In Genesis God said, “My Spirit will not strive with man forever…nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” One hundred and twenty years was the time that Noah preached the gospel to them as he was building the ark. Peter says of that time that the patience of God kept waiting. He was giving them time to repent, but they did not repent.
And in a similar way that is what God does during the course of a man’s life. Though man is born in sin and will progress in sin yet because of His mercy He is giving them time to repent until the time comes of their death. And yet Paul paints a picture here of man progressing further and further in his sin, until it consumes his body and soul.
That brings us to the revealing of unrighteousness starting in vs 24. And in this verse, what Paul shows is that sin unrestrained results in the dishonoring of the body. God gives them over to impurity “so that their bodies would be dishonored among them.” Sexual sin dishonors the body. Those of you that were at our Bible study on Wednesday night a couple of weeks ago will remember 1 Cor. 6:18 which says, “Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral (porneia) man sins against his own body.” Immoral is porneia in the original language, which covers all kinds of sexual sins from illicit intercourse, to adultery, fornication, homosexuality, incest, etc. Remember that Paul was rebuking the Corinthian church because they were tolerating a man who was committing incest with his father’s wife.
And Paul uses that as an entrance to the subject of immorality on a broader scale in the church. All types of porneia was going on in the church, presumably among Christians. They dishonored the divine design of their bodies which God had intended through immorality. The opposite of honor is shame. They did shameful things. There is an inherent shame that comes upon the person who indulges in immorality. There are all types of repercussions and consequences of immorality. But one of the main ones that does not get much notice is the injury to the human psyche. They hurt themselves. They cheapen themselves. And they suffer great damage that is not necessarily seen by the eye, but it is felt by the body.
In vs 25, Paul says that this happens because they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and exchanged the divine order of sex for a perversion. He says they worshipped the creature rather than the Creator. It’s interesting that immorality is correlated in the scripture with idolatry. (Col.3:5, 1 Cor. 10:7, Eph. 5:5) And so in vs 25, rather than man honoring God with his body and serving God with his body, we see man serving the creature, serving his animal instincts, serving himself, serving his lusts.
This immorality and idolatry works it’s way in the progression of sin to the culmination of sexual immorality, which is homosexuality. Vs 26 For this reason (What reason? The reason is they exchanged the truth for a lie) 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 the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.”
First of all, let us be clear that Paul is condemning homosexuality as sin. Those churches today that attempt to rationalize homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle are guilty of doing exactly what Paul is saying these men do; exchanging the truth for a lie. But Paul makes it clear here and elsewhere that homosexuality is unrighteousness. The whole point of this passage is to reveal the progression of unrighteousness.. He is revealing the unrighteousness of men who reject the truth of God and set themselves up as their own god. And so all of these behaviors and attitudes that Paul presents in this passage are manifestations of sinfulness. There are 22 sins that are delineated here. Paul is addressing the sin of homosexuality first because he is showing that immorality dishonors the body. When we get to vs28, then he goes on to list sins that are sins of the mind, or soul. But sin affects the entire being. The spirit of a man is dead because of sin, the soul of man is depraved because of sin, and the body is dishonored because of sin.
Thus you cannot make the argument that the Gnostics did, that sin which was in the body did not affect the spirit and so it was not really sinful. Paul is saying here that sin of the body and sin of the mind both corrupt and degrade the person so that they are exceedingly sinful.
Paul says these sinful practices have an immediate consequence. “Receiving in themselves the due penalty of their error.” The fruit of such sins produce consequences in themselves, in their bodies and in their minds. Some people have tried to construe this to mean the AIDS epidemic. I would not necessarily say make that connection, but I do think it’s referring to things like depression, self hatred, low self esteem, stress and suicidal tendencies. There are inherent consequences of sexual sins that affect the body and the mind and Paul says that is the result of such sins.
In vs 28 that leads us to the third time God gives them over, and this time it’s to a depraved mind. “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.” God abandons them to their sinful practices which in turn affects their soul. Sin is corrupting to the full extent of the person, not only the body, but the soul.(mind, will, emotion)
Man’s arrogance causes them to be given over to a depraved mind. “And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind.” They didn’t deem it worthwhile to acknowledge God any longer. They considered the knowledge of God as something worthless.
So God gives them over to a depraved mind to do those things which are not proper. Bad thinking results in bad practices. An evil heart results in evil deeds. Prov.23:7 says, “as a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” Jesus said in In Matthew 15:19, “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies, and these are the things which defile a man.”
Then Paul gives a dirty laundry list of these kind of practices. What he calls every kind of unrighteousness. And there are 21 of them. Some of them seem to overlap in their meanings. But I think he wanted to give the full spectrum of sin which comes as a result of rejection of the truth of God.
Now you will be glad to know that I’m not planning on giving a detailed analysis of all 21 sins. I think they pretty much speak for themselves. But there is an order here which I think gives us a method to consider them. The first four sins are introduced by the words “having become filled…” And I think that speaks of the progressive nature of sin. It starts out small, as a form of rebellion against God, and it continues to corrupt and corrupt until it corrupts the entire loaf.
Jesus equated sin with leaven, saying, a little leaven, leavens the whole lump. In other words, a little sin begets more sin, and so on, until the entire person is corrupt. So maybe Paul gives the first four as the starting yeast, so to speak, that soon corrupts completely. The first four then starts with unrighteousness, which is simply rebellion against God, against God’s standard of righteousness. The next, wickedness, describes people who enjoy doing wrong. Greed is covetousness. Wanting what is not yours, wanting more. And evil or depravity is a corrupt nature where wrong is preferred to what is right.
The next group in the 21 is a group of five sins. And this group is described as “being full of..” They reach a stage further along in their progression in sin. So what are these people full of? First is envy. Begrudging what others have. Then murder. Perhaps this is speaking of more of an attitude of murder, which Jesus said was hate. Strife; which is being angry, quarrelsome. Deceit; which is lying, treachery. And malice is spite, a desire to harm people.
And then Pull gives the last group, which is a group of 12. I see these attributes as almost an outpouring of what has been filled up within them. Having been filled up their sin spills out and affects others. And we see that first in gossips; they spread rumors. Slanderers; they publicly tell lies about others. Haters of God; they openly attack God or His people. Insolent: they treat others with contempt. Arrogant; is putting themselves first and of most importance. Boastful, they love bragging of the things that they have done. Inventors of evil; they take special delight in novel forms of evil. Disobedient to parents; they disregard what their parents teach them.
And then their is what is considered a sub group of four which finish up the 12. Without understanding; senseless, they are fools. They have rejected God. And God calls such fools. Paul is being nice; he says they are without understanding. Then untrustworthy; they have no moral compass and so you cannot trust them. He goes on to say they are unloving; meaning without natural affection. Our society’s demand for abortion comes to mind as an example of being without natural affection. But a lack of natural affection certainly manifests itself in many other ways as well. And then the last one is unmerciful. These are cruel people, heartless people who only care about themselves.
Now what is important to note is that Paul equates these sins of the soul as deserving equal punishment as those sins of sexual immorality. They are no less grievous to God. And I would suggest that if you are honest you heard your own attitudes and behaviors described as I was going through that list. So none of us are exempt from the condemnation of sin. He says in vs 32, “and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.”
What Paul is saying is that such people that commit these things know that they are doing wrong. They have an awareness within them that such vices are worthy of death. God has revealed this to them in their conscience, and He has revealed His holiness in His creation, so that they know that they are offending a holy God. And I will suggest another possible way that they know this. Because when societies make laws regarding right and wrong, they always follow the principles of righteousness that God has ordained. Even in the darkest of Africa, they recognize that lying is wrong. They recognize cheating as wrong. They recognize hatred as wrong. They may twist their laws to try to protect themselves, but people always recognize the sin in another person. And our judgment of that sin in another is always very severe. So I think that our judgment of other’s sin, condemns us of sin. We know instinctively in our hearts what sin is. And we judge others by it. So Paul will say in chapter 2 vs 1, “Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.”
But not only are we cognizant of our sin, and thus due the penalty for it, but also Paul says we give hearty approval to those who practice sin. In other words, they encourage sin in others. I was speaking to someone the other day who had a run in with an unbeliever who was trying to put him down and condemn him. And I said the reason that he was acting that way was because he was jealous that you weren’t like him anymore; you were clean, you were sober, you were trying to live for the Lord. And so in their wickedness which they weren’t willing to repent of, the way to make themselves feel better is to make you look worse. Ultimately, they are trying to bring you down to their level. And that is really the culmination of sin, that it seeks to pull others down with them. Eve did the same thing to Adam, and Adam was foolish enough to willingly go along with her for the sake of companionship.
So what is the conclusion of this study today? It should be to show the complete corruptness of sin, the total depravity of man. Sin is rebellion against God and that progresses to defilement and debasement of body and soul. The person who is in sin is corrupted completely by sin and deserving of the wrath of God.
But the good news is that when you come to the point where you recognize your hopelessness, and you recognize your sinfulness, when you stop trying to rationalize your sin, then you are ready to be delivered. You are able to be saved by faith in what Christ did for you on the cross. Taking our sin upon himself, that we might exchange the lie for the truth, the body of death for life in the spirit, that we might exchange our sins for His righteousness.
The good news is that in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul gave another long list of sins very similar to this list. He said in 1Cor. 6:9-10 “Or 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, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.”
But then he says this; 1Cor. 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.” Such were some of you. No matter how vile the sinner, God is able to save and deliver us from our sins. The lesson here is as Paul said in another place, “Jesus Christ came to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” When you realize your sinfulness, then there is the hope of salvation. Jesus came to save us from sin and from the wrath of God against sin. I hope you will turn to Him today in repentance and faith and be saved from God’s wrath.