Sermon text here
Every person listening to this should, hopefully, hear conviction in this sermon, myself most of all. I thought it was interesting that Spurgeon did not feel comfortable even letting the whole of Romans 1 be read aloud in church, because of the litany of wickedness that was being discussed. I will not be so kind. I want to read through the whole passage of the latter half of Romans 1, because this current age is awash in the spirit of rebellion that Paul describes, and surely the Scriptures were given to us, among other reasons, to use as mirror for all to see their need for Jesus in:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 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.
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.—Romans 1:16-32
Pretty brutal assessment, and well it should be. Paul was exposed to the pagan world of the Roman empire in all its nasty glory, and traveled it extensively as he preached and planted churches. Charles Spurgeon is right on in his assessment of the root of the problems that Paul expands on here: not glorifying and honoring God as God, and thus, we do not show gratitude to God for all that He gives us. And what does God give us? He gives us our very existence, He gives us the air we breathe, the food we eat and the strength to work, make a home and care for a family. More than that, He creates in us the ability to understand the joy in those things and to show love. Love, as I mentioned in an earlier episode, is a common grace we all know on this earth and which will be fully known in glory after Jesus returns. He has given us existence and painted it all about with proof of his existence. I ran across an interesting little statement in the story “The Naval Treaty” by Arthur Conan Doyle, what I’ve taken to calling “The Holmes Apologetic.” The detective, lover of reason and logic that he is, opines to Watson,
“There is nothing in which deduction is so necessary as in religion,” said he, leaning with his back against the shutters. “It can be built up as an exact science by the reasoned. Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But the rose is an extra. Its smell and its color are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope for from the flowers.”
So we stand here with the proof for God’s existence, His mastery of all things, and His care for His creatures staring us in the face, and yet as a species we seek more and more ways to hide ourselves from this. The secular world looks for the way to finally silence anyone who would point out their foolish stumbling, and sadly many Christians are not helping. So many places that would call themselves churches exist as a place not to preach the Gospel and call men to repentance and renewal of a right relationship with their Creator through the work of Jesus. Rather, they serve as a sort of hospital ward for the dying, doling out painkillers to dull the screaming of sinners’ consciences.
And so today we reap the result of our refusal to worship God as truly and fully God and be thankful to Him for all we are and have: a world full of death, disease, brokenness, societies that crumble as they celebrate putting one’s identity in sin—or confusing one’s identity until you can hardly even confess to being human.
But I didn’t start reading at verse 18. I started reading at verse 16, and that’s on purpose. I am not ashamed of the Gospel, and I want to end where I started. If God is gracious, there are people listening to me right now who are standing smack in the middle of the sort of sin, struggle and confusion that Paul describes. I empathize with you, my friend, because I too have been where you are. I have found myself standing in the midst of loving myself more than anyone else and putting my desires first, and I have seen the destruction it brought. I have tasted the bitterness of that cup. But God has been gracious to me, because He opened my ears to the truth of the Gospel. He let me see myself in a new way: not in contrast to other people, but in contrast to His holiness and justice, and I understood the depths to which I had run seeking to quiet that part of me that blared warning through it all.
But at the same time He also showed me Jesus. Not as some fancy smooth guy with a winning smile and perfect, hair, wanting to be my buddy and having a great plan for my life. No, He showed me Jesus as the One who became flesh for the sake of repaying the immense debt of ingratitude I owed to God. All the times I poured hour after hour into things that showed how little I trusted God and how much I believed I knew what was best, all the times I drank spiritual poison rather than eat from the tree of life, I saw them laid upon Jesus on the cross, suffering not just human death, but the wrath of God for sin. My sin. And in that, I felt for the first time, real gratitude and peace that rested on something much bigger, much more real, than anything that I had known previously. This was not “you walked the aisle and shook the pastor’s hand, now you’re saved.” This was not “if you engage in enough religious work, you might please God enough to get into heaven.” This was, and is, clearly and simply “It is finished.” So if you’re someone who has been listening to me, maybe one of my friends who is not a Christian and sees me posting this on Facebook wanting to know, what the heck is Dave doing with all these, I want you to hear what I’m saying clearly: apart from Christ, you have no hope. But in Christ, in turning and looking to the Savior on the cross taking on your curse, you have the only real hope that exists in the universe. You’ve passed out of Romans 1, and you are standing in chapter 8:
So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. –Romans 8:12-17
And I would say to my brothers and sisters reading this right now, please join in my prayer that we would in fact be filled with a deep love for God, that our theology would not be cold but that we would have a theology rooted in truth and propelled by a love for God that results in that love overflowing to everyone around us. I am desperate to be a man that shows that love to those around me, I am deeply conscious of the ways in which I fall short, and yet I am constantly refreshed by knowing that Jesus has paid for me perfectly, and that the Spirit is working, always working, churning out the imperfections and the lingering idols in anticipation of the day when I will stand before God. My fellow Christians, I hope you feel that longing, and I hope that what it breeds in all of us is, in fact, hope—hope in God.
I do have one recommendation for this week: if you have not read the works of Francis Schaeffer, I highly recommend doing so. In fact, I would go so far as to say they are mandatory reading for a Christian who wants to be able to interact with the secular world and bring a Gospel message that speaks to the needs of those suffering under the weight of our society’s collective foolishness. Go get yourself a copy of The God Who Is There to start, and you will find yourself gaining a fuller understanding of where we stand today and the nature of our task.