A Study of Romans 1:24-25
Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:
Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
I can best express the main thought of this part of Romans 1, in its connection,by saying that sin is very successful and prospers in all that it wills, even unto the end. The reason for this prospering of sin is the wrath of God. The wrath of God prospers sin so that it reaches its purpose. From a spiritual point of view, the sinner does what he pleases. However, sin prospers more than the sinner originally planned.
Let me use a figure. Suppose there is a steep, icy road that ends in a precipice. A man sets his feet on that steep, icy road.
What will happen?
He will go on. He will be prosperous in his slide down that road.
Can he stop?
No, he must go on.
You say, because of the law of gravitation. That is, perhaps, correct.
But what is the law of gravitation?
It is the unchangeable operation of God in things. God pulls that man down.
Will God stop because a man puts his feet on that slippery road?
No, God does not change.
What must happen if that man is to stop halfway, or rather, if he is to go up that steep road instead of down?
You say, a wonder. That is a fitting illustration of my text, in its connection.
The slippery road is the process of sin. The man that puts his feet on that road is the sinner, indeed, the whole world. On that slippery road the whole world moves by nature. The power that pulls the world down is the unchangeable operation of the wrath of God. The wrath of God pulls man down from sin to sin, until he reaches the precipice. The only power that will not only cause man to stop, but also cause him to go up, is the gospel. This is why the gospel is the power unto salvation. This is why the apostle is not ashamed of this gospel.
The wrath of God is revealed, the apostle had said. When the apostle says that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven, he does not mean to say that God in heaven is angry. But he means to say that there is an effectual operation of wrath in the world. This wrath is present, it is around us, it besets us on every side, it works. In the face of the operation of this wrath, men hold the truth under in unrighteousness. The truth is that God is God, that He is glorious, and that He must be praised and thanked. Men hold this truth under in unrighteousness. They want to be unrighteous. Therefore, they hold the truth under in unrighteousness. As soon as they do, wrath is revealed.
In the first place, in that their hearts were darkened, so that they became religiously foolish. This is the punishment of their wanting to do unrighteousness. Man held the truth under in unrighteousness, and God made them so foolish that they made themselves gods like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things. Having made these images, they go on, and their hearts become more darkened, until finally they believe that these images which they have made actually are God.
This is always the case. Some people, for example, will find all kinds of excuses for not sending their children to the Christian school. They know better. They know that they should send them to the Christian school. But they seek all kinds of excuses. Once having started on this road, they must go on until they finally believe their own excuses.
So it is here. Man said, “I do not want to serve and glorify God.” He held the truth under in unrighteousness. God said, “Go ahead.” Then man made images. He knew these images were not God. But God darkened his heart. Man was carried on until finally he believed that these sticks and stones were actually God. This is the course of sin. The next step is moral corruption. This is the inevitable result. A man is like his god. If he makes himself a god, he becomes like the god which he makes. The reason is that wrath pulls him down. God brings His people into heaven. He also brings the wicked into hell.
This is my text. “Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed forever.”
Let me call your attention to this development of sin and to the only power that can save man from continuing on this road of sin, until he falls into destruction.
The text says that God gave them up to uncleanness.
What does this mean?
All sin is uncleanness. But if we read the rest of this chapter, we will see that the apostle means something specific. What the apostle means with uncleanness is that moral state of heart and mind in which man corrupts himself sexually. Moral dirt is what the apostle has in mind. By this uncleanness, the apostle means that God gave them over to such a condition of the heart and will and mind and desires that they delight in sexual filth. The effect is that they dishonor their own bodies between themselves.
What the apostle means by this he explains when he says that this moral corruption is such that men lusted after men, and women after women. It began with corruption in the spirit; it ends with corruption in the body. This is heathendom. This is civilized Rome. This is reality. This is still the case.
Our text is an explanation of many things that we see around us. It is striking that the world that departs from God gives rise to all manner of uncleanness. Many of our movies would be out of business if it were not for the sexual filth shown in them.
What is the reason for the sexually explicit pictures everywhere?
Why must even ordinary ads contain unchastity?
Unclean minds make unclean things. But remember, the text explains it as a manifestation of the wrath of God. The wrath of God brings men to hell. The wrath of God brings the world to destruction.
Mark well, the text says that God gave them over. People have tried to explain away the force of this word. They have even found in this chapter a classic proof for common grace. They say that God’s giving man over to uncleanness does not mean that God pushes man into sin. This, they say, would be contrary to God’s holiness. They say that it rather means that God simply abandoned them. He simply let them go. He let them go as I let go my handkerchief, so that it falls. God first held man back on the road of sin. This is called the restraint of sin. Then God let man go. He stepped out of man’s way so that He did not hold him back anymore. Man then slipped down on the road of sin.
This is not so.
Did you ever see the law of gravitation stop anyone from going down?
Romans 1 teaches that the wrath of God pulls man down. The word used in the original does not mean “to let go.” It rather means “to push down,” “to deliver up.” It is the same word that is used for delivering a prisoner into prison. You do not deliver a prisoner into prison by letting him go and letting him walk into prison of his own accord. The same word is used for the deliverance of Christ into the hands of wicked men.
In this same way God delivers men unto sin. He does so in His wrath. The wrath of God is revealed; it operates in the world. The effect is that men become religiously foolish and morally corrupt.
The text teaches, therefore, that God punishes sin with more sin. The road of the world is sin, wrath, more sin, and more wrath.
How does God do this?
How does He do this without becoming the author of sin?
How is it possible?
How must it be explained that the wrath of God, which is the reaction of His holiness, brings the sinner deeper into sin?
The text says that God does it through the lust of men’s hearts. God gave them up to uncleanness, through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves.
The heart is the center of man’s life from a spiritual point of view. Out of the heart are the issues of life. All our thinking, our willing, our desiring issues forth from the heart. As the heart is, so is the man, spiritually, morally, ethically.
Now there is nothing wrong in the fact that the heart desires. The heart is made to desire. This is the purpose of the heart. But the normal desire of the heart, apart from sin, is that it desires after God. It desires to be pleasing to Him, to serve Him, to glorify Him. This was the normal desire of the heart. But those desires become lusts as soon as this heart turns away from God. Then the heart fastens itself on other objects, apart from God. It says, “I will no more serve God.”
Upon what does the desire of the heart fasten itself, if not on God?
It fastens itself upon the creature instead of upon the Creator. It seeks things, and it seeks to press these things into the service of unrighteousness. This is lust. There are many lusts in the world: lust of money, lust of honor, lust of position, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life. The lust of money is that we press it into the service of unrighteousness. This is why we have depression.
Now what does God do?
He works upon these lusts by His anger. He does not let them go. He works in them. He works in everything. The purpose of God working in these lusts is to bring man as low as possible. Man says to a cow, “Thou art my god.” God says, “I will see to it that you fall as far below that god which you made as a worshiper ought to be below his god.” Thus man comes to fall below the beast. He does things a beast will never do.
God does it! God says to the sinful world two things. He says, “I will take your heart and guide you in the direction that will bring you lower than the beast that you serve.” He says also, “I will lead you to destruction.”
The final reason is expressed in the words, “Who is blessed forever. Amen.” The meaning, in the first place, is that God is only good. In the second place, being the only good, He is the only blessed one. He is the only blessed one as the triune God. In the third place, as the infinite good, He wills to become manifest as the one apart from whom there is no blessedness. There may never be anything in which God does not become manifest as the blessed one.
There are two ways in which God becomes manifest as the only blessed one. He becomes manifest as the blessed one in them that fear Him by blessing them. But with that same unchangeable will to become manifest as the blessed one, He assumes an attitude over against the wicked. The result is that God manifests His wrath by making them unspeakably wretched. Antithetically, it becomes manifest that God is blessed forever. Joy and glory are a testimony that God is blessed forever. Wretchedness and misery testify antithetically that God is blessed forever. There are but two powers operating in history.
The wrath of God is revealed when men serve the creature more than the Creator. This does not mean that they serve the Creator too, but that they serve the creature more. No, the meaning is that they serve the creature instead of the Creator. They change the truth of God into a lie. And God pushes man down until it becomes manifest that sin is sin.
I am not ashamed of the gospel. This is the positive thought. I am not ashamed of the gospel. It is the power of God unto salvation. It is a power on the slippery road on which wrath pushes man down and on which all find themselves.
How can man be saved?
By means of instruction?
This is impossible. Salvation is not a matter of education. Man wants unrighteousness.
What will stop him?
Shall we give him an example?
There is no example. The whole world is on that path. No, there must be a power that can change that wrath into uplifting love. This power we have in the gospel. The gospel is a power. It is a power to lift man up.
I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is a power of God unto salvation…
The righteous shall live by faith.
….whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
By Herman Hoeksema