Sermon 2017 02 26

26.02.17 AM Sermon - Romans # 5 "Wickedness & Wrath"

 

A couple of weeks ago we considered how the apostle Paul longed to see the Christians in Rome and ensure that he shared with them the gospel of God.

He makes it plain in his letter that he longs to see them to encourage them.

(v11) "I long to see you …" he writes. Absence make the heart grow fonder.

(v13) "I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now)"

It is not clear why or how he had been prevented, but he wanted all the more to see them - indeed, we could see this as part of his prayer - that God would open up the way for him to travel to them and be with them as he continued to preach the gospel to peoples that had yet to hear the good news about Jesus.

He states four reasons why he longed to see them

a. Giving a Gift - "so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong"

It is not clear what the nature of this gift was, that Paul desires to impart, but his motive is clear.

The word he uses means to be strengthened = firmly planted and fixed.

He wants the Christians in Rome to be firmly planted and rooted in the gospel about Jesus.

It is only in him, as we get our roots into him, that we can be assured of a firm and secure life.

[Storm Doris - uprooting trees, with tragic consequences.]

As we get to grips with the grace of the gospel more and more, so more and more we will be secure.

In his visit - Paul also seeking b. Mutual Encouragement

(v12) "… that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith."

Only once in the NT is this word symparakaléō found. It means to affirm or exhort together.

Paul wants the church in Rome to be people intimately joined and heartily agreed about what God says.

May this be true of us also as a church - may we seek mutual / shared encouragement in the faith.

Affirming the deep truths of the gospel together - exhorting one another to follow Christ more and more.

And thirdly, Paul desires to be c. Receiving a Harvest

"… in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles."

As a people we should always be seeking God for growth and fruition - not settling for stagnation.

We are not called to be a holy huddle, or a believers' bubble - but to be disciples and ambassadors, witnesses of the gospel of God amongst those we live and work and play.

And so Paul states how he is unashamed of and d. Eager to Preach the gospel to them, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes, and brings the righteousness that we all desperately need in the face of judgement (v14-17).

Paul is longing for spiritual strengthening, reciprocal encouraging, continual harvesting, faithful preaching.

May we have such longings and pray for such things also.

And then Paul continues in his letter by painting a picture of what the believers face in terms of the reality of Human wickedness and God's wrath - and it is to this that we turn our attention. 

If Paul preaches and teaches the gospel of God which brings salvation for all who believe, the question Paul next addresses is "Salvation from what?" - from what are we all needing to be saved?

Verses 18-32 will start to answer this question, but before we consider these verses we need to have in mind what is meant by the term "righteousness" and what the Old Testament has to say to give us context.

 

"Righteousness" - The term "Righteousness" in scripture is about having the attribute of acting consistently in a good and right way. As such it finds its complete expression in God himself - who alone is perfectly righteous in and of himself. God's character epitomises righteousness.

God always acts rightly, in accordance with his nature and promises, and His perfection, in this regard, is the standard against which every person is measured.

The implications of this are spelt out in scripture: that, therefore, God must take action against the unrighteousness, the sin, the rebelliousness - the lack of perfection and right living and being - evident in us! However, it also means that his promises to save such a people must stand.

The extraordinary good news of the gospel of God is how God can make us righteous (how he can deal with our sin) without compromising his own righteousness. How he promises both judgement and salvation.

The apostle Paul explains how it is that people can only be justified (made righteous - just-as-if we had not sinned) by faith and how God has made this possible through Christ.

So the good news of Christ and our forgiveness and restoration is set against a backdrop of our utter condemnation and our total powerlessness to do anything to save ourselves.  

Old Testament Background

God's revelation of himself

God reveals himself to be the one and only creator and sustainer of everything.

He is perfectly holy (Is 6:1-5) and unable to tolerate evil (Hab 1:13).

He has no equal and no one can stand against him (Is 40:21-25.

Rebellion against him is foolish and leads to judgement.

Israel's rebellion

The heart of Israel's rebellion is seen not in terms of her wrongdoing, but in her unfaithfulness to God (Hosea 1:2). This is because God's greatest concern for his people is that they should relate to him, as seen in the first three of the ten Commandments (Exodus 20). The idolatry into which Israel fell exemplifies her rejection of Him.

God's wrath

This is his active anger against the rebellion of humankind.

From the time of the Fall onwards (Gen 3:14-24), it is a major theme of the OT.

Sometimes it is seen immediately as when a person is killed for doing something that is forbidden (eg Sam 6:6-7) and sometimes it is very dramatic, such as the destruction of an entire city (Gen 19).

As time goes on however, it is expressed mostly as the promise of future judgement (Isaiah 1-3)

 

Paul now reminds his readers that … 1. God is angry with humankind's unrighteousness

(v18) "The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness."

There is a reason why we need a Saviour, why we need to hear and respond to the good news of the gospel of Christ. The case against humankind is both comprehensive and conclusive.

Regarding all people everywhere - here is our conscious, wilful rejection of our Creator.

And we need to be saved from God's wrath, his anger against sin, unrighteousness.

We need to have a reality check if our view of God is of a nice fluffy God who does not care about sin.

Or a God who is so indifferent that he sweeps sin under the carpet and pretends it does not matter.

Or of a wicked God who is in collusion with sin, or weak God who is powerless to act against it.

The scriptures are clear that God is angry because of our wickedness - and every rejection of God, small and big, is sin - a breaking of the law and therefore unrighteousness from which we need to be rescued.

Paul is making clear here that we not only need saving from our sins, but indeed saving from God himself!

Because God personally and actively sets himself sin. He is just and will meter out judgement.

But God reveals his righteousness and his wrath so that he may lead his people to repentance and faith.

Perhaps we question and cannot reconcile how a righteous and loving God can also be an angry God who in his very being must express his wrath.

However if we understand that the opposite of love is not wrath but indifference, then perhaps we will begin to understand that God's wrath and his love are not opposites but a continuum - perhaps two points on the same circle.

Perhaps the problem is that we equate God's wrath with our wrath - our petty, inconsistent, often irrational and inherently self-centred bursts of anger.

God's anger is not like our anger, his anger is perfect exactly because he is perfectly righteous and loving.

And Paul points out that God's solution to our problem of unrighteousness and facing God's anger as a consequence, is the gifting of a righteousness that comes from him - an imputing of his own righteousness.

 

Paul next states that 2. Humankind's rejection of God is inexcusable (v19-20)

As we hear, we "supress the truth by our wickedness" - what truth?

Verses 19-20 state that we can know about God because God has revealed himself through his creation.

"… what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse."

So, there are two aspects of this, firstly : a. God has revealed himself in creation

The universe around us tells us at least two fundamental truths: that the God who created it is powerful and that he is worthy of worship. This is clear to see - if we are willing to see.

And so secondly b. people are without excuse - The evidence is there for all to see and understand and this leaves us without any defence of our rejection of our Creator.

If we supress the knowledge of God as revealed through creation, then we are the ones to blame, no one else. God reveals himself - his power, greatness, glory - but we can immediately and instinctively squash in our minds and hearts such a revelation.

Now, Paul is making it clear that God's self-revelation in creation does not save people, but rather because we do know better and choose reject such a revelation, it makes lays our rebellion against Him firmly upon our shoulders and not God's. It isn't God's fault that we ignore Him.

 

Paul then describes the consequences of such rebellion against our creator, of how … 3. God gives sinful humankind over to their own sin (v21-32) Three times, Paul identifies the same two-fold pattern:

- our rebellion, which involves the exchange of something good for something bad (v23,25,28)

- followed by God's response, described in the phrase, "he gave them over" (v24,26,28)

So, here Paul describes a. The nature of sin

(v21-23)"For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles."

 

Firstly i. Sin is rebellion against God

Sin is the personal rejection of our Creator - rather than simply doing things that are wrong.

Paul is addressing the very heart of the matter - the way in which we orientate ourselves away from God rather than the things we then do, or do not do as a result of this turning away.

An incorrect understand of "sin" being the "sins" that we commit, will encourage us to think that we can perhaps do something about it - in and of ourselves - that we can sin a little bit less, we do less things wrong.

Or we can do good things and religious things which cancel out or make up for the bad that we do.

Or even that we compare ourselves with the next person who is worse than us - we think of ourselves as not very guilty because in our own eyes we commit few sins, or not as many as a very bad person.

By mixing up "sin" - our rebellion - and our "sins" - our acts of rebellion - we will not appreciate the depths of our predicament. If we fail to compare ourselves against a holy and perfect God and judge ourselves by that perfect standard, then we will think we have the power to save ourselves.

Sin means that each of us is in rebellion against an almighty, powerful, God who hates sin and has promised to judge it for what it is. It places us firmly in harm's way - in the way of death.

But God wants us to receive his deliverance.

Rejection of God as God, wanting to King over our own lives - only leads to destruction.

Paul says that our rejection of God results in a change in the object of our affections.

We turn our devotion elsewhere - to images (v23) and created things (v25).

For us today we pursue all manner of distractions to subject ourselves under and effectively worship them in place of God who is the rightful ruler: Money, possessions, leisure and treasure.

As ultimately all idolatry comes down to our own decision - we replace God with ourselves.

I and me and my desires and appetites need to be satisfied above God.

 

And Paul is making it clear that ii. Sin is wilful

People do not "fall into sin" by accident, in unconscious rebellion. People know the right response to the creator yet wilfully choose the opposite and deliberately reject him. This rejection is pictured in the "exchange" that Paul alludes to which we give up our knowledge of God (v23,25,28)

 

iii. sin is stupid

In the OT, idolatry is not only forbidden (Exodus 20:4) but it is also ridiculed (Isaiah 44:9-20).

The folly of our break for independence is exposed in the absurdity of the decisions that we make -

- preferring images to the immortal God (v23)

- accepting a lie rather than the truth (v25)

- and thinking it not worthwhile to retain the knowledge of the creator who gave us everything (v28)

We think of ourselves as in control and in charge but we fool ourselves, we dumb ourselves down, we have brokered bad deals in our exchanges - substituting God the creator for his created things - people and stuff.

The futility of our thinking and our darkened foolish hearts are revealed for what they are through our rebellious attitude and acts of rebellion. Why would I want to exchange gold for straw?

Why would we want to satisfy our meagre appetites during this short life and reject eternal riches?

Next we see b. God's wrathful response - in that he gives them over (v24-31)

Three times Paul describes how God "gave them over" and he describes three areas of our lives - our hearts our bodies our minds - all given over to sin as we wilfully reject God and his ways.

Firstly, (v24) "God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts …"

(v25) "They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen."

Paul starts with our hearts. The scriptures teach us that the heart above all is desperately wicked and leaves us with a real problem. (Jeremiah 17:9) "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure."

The heart of our problem is the problem with our heart - we have turned our hearts, our love, away from God. Our heart is diseased with sin and turned to stone and we need a heart transplant. But who can give us a new heart? We need a heart of flesh placed within us - one that can love God again - with a love that stems from his own love for us. Thankfully, God keeps his promises - they are YES in Christ!

Through the prophet Ezekiel God says about his people (Ezekiel 11:19) "I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh."

And in case they thought he wasn't being serious, of wasn't talking about them, God speaks again and makes it clear and personal: (Ezekiel 36:26) "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh."   …. God can do this in you !!

We have set our affections upon another and others - we need to repent and turn back to God.

And we have exchanged truth for lies, and the eternal Creator, in exchange for created and temporary things.

And here Paul cannot but help himself from bursting into worship, describing our Creator (v25) "… who is forever praised. Amen." This is not raw dull teaching - Paul is passionate about his God and God's people.

 

The second giving over, following the giving over of our hearts, is the giving over of the flesh, the body.

v26 "God gave them over to shameful lusts." We could say that Paul has already described this back in (v24) "…to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another."

And Paul then describes the acts and the desires of homosexuality : (v26-27) "Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error." … We will come back to this topic in a moment.

 

Thirdly, after the hearts and bodies, we have the giving over of the mind, our thinking and reasoning.

(v28) "Furthermore …" Paul continues - as though describing a heaping of sin upon sin "… just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so …" Thirdly (v28) "God gave them over to a depraved mind …" And we see how the decisions we make lead us to the actions we take (v28) "… so that they do what ought not to be done."

And Paul then goes on to list various sins, which again, we shall come back to.

 

This pattern that Paul describes - God's handing us over to such sins and rebellions, is his specific response to our sin and rebellion. There is a dreadful reciprocity in his judgement against us - when humankind rejects God, God rejects humankind.

He does more than simply walk way, and leave us to our own devices, he actively and deliberately hands us over to those things we seek to pursue and have (just as we have actively and deliberately chosen to sin).

Handing us over - means condemning us to be enslaved to our sinful selves.

And when God hands us over we are utterly corrupted, we are made unclean.

We want what is detestable and we are now unable to think rightly.

The end result is the all the sins that Paul lists. And Paul highlights two categories.

i. sexual sins (v24-27) Of which there are many examples and descriptions throughout scripture.

This focus on sexual sins should not surprise us. For if God has made humankind in his own image, and made us in the beginning male and female, then our rejection of God's image and his pattern and purposes is at the very heart of our rebellion and will lead to the rejection of these fundamental and primary relationships that are for our good and for the whole of humanity and society's good.

Homosexuality is singled out and named here, not because it is the greatest sin, but because it is a clear example and evidence of a rejection of God's image and order in creation.

It is the exchange of natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. It is the abandonment of loving relations for lustful relations. It is rejection of that which is healthy and life-giving for the pursuit of that which is shameful and results in harm, the due penalty. It is a rejection of order and an embracing of error.

Sadly, where there is an abandonment of the authority of the scriptures, twisting them to say what we think they should say, and in our seeking to make society in our own rebellious image, rather than in God's perfect image, we continue along a path of rejecting God's patterns for life - such as his establishment of marriage between one man and one woman for life and the confinement of sex within marriage - and we have followed the lead of those who would choose otherwise - and even approve of those who rebel against God in such ways - and even call such relationships "good" in our eyes.

I believe that we are increasingly living in days where as scripture puts it "everyone did as they saw fit" or "everyone did what was right in their own eyes" (Judges 17:26, 21:25)

We need to remember Proverbs 21:2 "A person may think their own ways are right, but the Lord weighs the heart." We need to choose to do what is right in the eyes of the Lord, not what is right in our own eyes and according to our own flawed standards.

Because one day our lives and hearts towards God will be weighed and found wanting.

 

ii. every kind of unrighteousness

Paul has already described how humankind in our rebelliousness  "… do what ought not to be done." And he lists various sins: (v29-31) "They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy."

Paul is not compiling a list in order of severity, nor is he setting forth an exhaustive list - we could say that he is inviting his readers to list their own - to include themselves in this indictment.

His point is that all have sinned and fallen short. We are all guilty of sin and rebellion and are therefore under God's wrath and judgement.

 

c. Wrath in the present and in the future.

(v32) "Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them."

Paul reminds his readers that though God's wrath is to be understood as coming in the future, ultimately in the reality of death and eternal separation from the life of God, it is also being revealed in the present, in being handed over to all the sinful actions of humankind, experiencing the penalty of sin in the death and degradation and depraving of their hearts and bodies and minds and in the approving and therefore exacerbating (increasing and deepening) of such things.

Paul is saying that though we know that our sins deserve such punishment this knowledge doesn’t bring about any change in us at all.

Again, Paul is not focusing upon particular "sins" as our problem but sin in general - our state of sinfulness and rebellion - our alienation from God because of our rejection on him.

We could say that our individual "sins" are the symptom of the illness of our "sin" - an outworking of our willfully foolish and darkened hearts and minds. And we need a Doctor and a remedy.

We need to be clear here - God is dealing with our sin on the cross of Christ - our Healer.

Our particular sins are forgiven and forgotten and removed from us through the cross because our sin (our sinful state) overall is dealt with fully. It I only He that can grant us a new heart, perform a heart transplant.

We are powerless to help ourselves, we are without excuse because God has revealed himself - yet we have rebelled and exchanged him for idols and his truth for lies - so we needed and need a Saviour who is able to save completely.

And only God himself is able to save, because only God himself is righteous and can deal with our unrighteousness. His obedience can deal with our rebellion.

We are not needing a program of improvement or a stricter moral code to help us with our particular sins to help us be better people and do more good things.

Our greatest need is not a government that will usher in a better and more caring society, or a religion that manipulates us into observance of rules and regulations.

These things would be sticking plasters over our ailment of sin.

What we need is complete and radical and thorough treatment of everything.

Our sin has contaminated us fully and we are sick and need healing and saving.

We are dead and need reviving to life.

And the Gospel that Paul brings, and that we bring - is that through Christ there is Hope.

 


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