God Abandons to their Sin, those who Abandon Him
In three separate passages of Romans chapter 1 below, the apostle Paul declares what happens to those who reject the truth about God, and who choose to follow their own godless ways. In each of these passages—beginning respectively at verses 24, 26 and 28—the Scripture reveals that God abandons these people to their own sin and its consequences.
Thus, the apostle writes:
Romans 1:24 ESV
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonouring of their bodies among themselves,
This is a classic consequence of refusing to acknowledge God. Those who choose to live without God are ultimately given over by God to the sinful desires of their own hearts or minds. Whatever they may cherish or yearn for in their hearts becomes their ‘god’—the true object of their affections. (Ps. 81:11-12)
For many, the longing of their heart is for sexual relations. However, they do not seek such relations in the way that God intended: i.e. through the sacred bond of marriage. Rather, they seek sexual satisfaction through a variety of impure and immoral situations. (Eph. 4:18-19) Such, for example, are those who engage in sexual promiscuity. Such, too, are those who distort or pervert the gift of sex by indulging in unnatural practices. They do this instead of enjoying sex as God intended.
Principally, God intended sexual relations to act as a unique gift that bonded a husband and his wife together as one flesh, or one unique person. In addition, it was God’s intention for every married couple that—through sexual relations—they should be enabled to fulfil one another’s important emotional, physical and psychological needs. Thus, sexual intimacy was intended to be one means whereby a husband and his wife could express their love and affection for one another. And, of course, one expression of their mutual love was the God-ordained plan for human reproduction and new life. Thus, in every respect, God intended sexual relations within marriage to be a joy and a blessing from him.
In verse 24, however, Paul refers to those who distort and abuse God’s gift, to engage in unnatural practices. In saying this, we should note that—at this stage—Paul is not referring to homosexual practices. The apostle will deal with such practices in subsequent verses. Rather, in verse 24, Paul is speaking of those men and women who degrade their bodies with one another by engaging in some form of sexually immoral behaviour.
In Paul’s day, this included those who perverted or abused the gift of sex by engaging in things like pagan sexual rites and ceremonies, or cultic prostitution. This practice was rife in cities like Corinth from where the apostle was writing. In the temple of Aphrodite alone, over a thousand priestesses acted as sacred cult prostitutes. Similar practices were pursued in other parts of the Greek world. And, in the Roman world, sexual immorality was practised in connection with the cult goddess, Venus.
Again, in many other places—now, as well as then—men and women employ some form of perverted sexual ritual in the worship of pagan deities or demons.
In addition, those who engage in any form of sexual relations outside of marriage, or with anyone other than their marriage partner, are abusing and distorting the gift of God. Yet, such abuse is practised widely today—as it was in Paul’s day. People indulge in sexual immorality with partners to whom they are not married (or not yet married). (Cf. 1 Cor. 6:15-20; 1 Thess. 4:3-8)
When people persist in this course—repeatedly, wilfully and stubbornly refusing to repent of and renounce their sin—God eventually gives them over to their impurity; i.e. to the degrading of their bodies with one another. Since God has abandoned them to their sin, he has also abandoned them to the consequences of their sin. Whatever illnesses, diseases or other evils come upon them as a direct result of their sexual impurity, are illnesses, diseases or evils that otherwise might have been avoided. We should be careful to note, of course, that many illnesses or diseases do not relate directly to a person’s sinful lifestyle. Rather, they relate more generally to the fall of man, and to the sinful nature and inclinations common to all mankind. (Luke 13:2-5; John 9:1-3)
Whatever the cause, we must be careful not to pass judgment, lest we ourselves be judged by God. God alone knows the truth, and he alone will judge each person justly and fairly—and yet with mercy and compassion.
Then, the apostle adds:
Romans 1:25 ESV
…because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
The Gentiles rejected the truth concerning the existence, power and divine nature of God. However, when a person rejects ultimate truth—i.e. God’s truth—he must inevitably resort to a lie. Such a person must deceive himself concerning the evidence that God has set before his eyes in respect of his existence and power. That person must substitute other (imagined) realities in place of God—for God constituted mankind as spiritual beings. As such, men and women possess a spiritual nature—no matter how much they may try to suppress it or deny its existence.
Instead, however, of accepting the truth concerning the all-powerful and Sovereign God of all creation, mankind in his folly substitutes false gods. He invents ‘gods’ which are, in reality, the products of his own distorted and sin-darkened mind. For the truth of God, he substitutes the philosophies and ideas of men. He sets his heart on them, and serves them with his mind and understanding. (Cf. Matt. 6:24; 1 John 2:15-17)
The pagan worships idols—but idols are non-existent entities, frequently used as a front to conceal the worship of demons. As for philosophies and ideas, they are but the accumulation of mankind’s knowledge and wisdom; i.e. of fallen and sinful mankind’s knowledge and wisdom. But how can the knowledge and wisdom of fallen and sinful mankind compare with the infinite, holy and perfect knowledge and wisdom of mankind’s Creator? Yet, they choose to worship the things that God has created—including man’s mind and intellect—rather than the One who created all these things.
But should not God the Creator be the only object of adoration, praise and worship? Indeed, he should. Moreover, as Paul contemplates the greatness and the majesty of the Creator, the apostle exclaims at the end of verse 25:
25c …the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. (ESV)
Sinful men and women may not praise the Name of the Lord while they remain in their woefully darkened state of mind. One day, however, every knee will bow before him. However, those whom God has delivered from such darkness and moral impurity by his sovereign grace and mercy will certainly praise and worship his most holy Name.
Again, myriads of holy angels—superior by far to any human being in power, glory and intellect—worship, praise and magnify the Name of the Lord. These higher created intelligences acknowledge, worship and serve their Creator. How much more should mankind, who depends for his very existence on the presence, sustaining power and providence of God? No wonder Paul concludes verse 25 with an Amen—so be it! Or truly let it be!
Nevertheless, what becomes of those who wilfully persist in setting their hearts on idols, or on the unbridled pursuit of sexually immoral practices? What happens to those who change the truth of God for a lie (or the lie of denying his existence, power and glory)? What happens to those who deliberately choose to ‘worship’ and serve the creation (including philosophy, science and false religions) instead of the Creator?
We will consider this in the next part of this article.
(To be continued)
[Excerpt from Expository Notes: Romans (chapter 1 verses 24-25). To read or download the full version of these Notes, click on the NT Commentaries menu tab above.]Follow @gordon_lyons