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DESCENT INTO DISTORTION

Romans 1:16 - 32 (Text 24,25)

(c) Copyright 2000 Rev. Bill Versteeg


16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith."

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 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 men are without excuse.

21 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. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator —who is forever praised. Amen.

26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.

28 Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29 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, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 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.

People of God:

In the past weeks we have been taking a no-shame look at the first chapters of Romans. Paul had no shame about the gospel because he was willing to be totally honest about sin, in himself, and in everyone of us. We have found in our study that the root of all the sin that he describes is a rejection of worshiping the one true living and life giving God. In refusing to glorify God, in refusing to give thanks to God, we choose an exchange - we exchange the glory of the living God in our characters and lives and we choose the descent, the pathway toward ugliness, becoming like the very images that we put our trust in. The only way we become fully human is by worshiping the God in whose image we are made. As we turn away from the one true God, we progressively, stage by stage loose our humanity. Once God is rejected, the glory of God exchanged for a lie, there is a profound consequence that happens to us as individuals and to society as a whole - a consequence which Paul depicts in verse 24 through 32. The consequence is the judgement of God - but the judgement of God happens in the form of 5 words - "God, he gave them over." If you have your bibles open, you will notice that Paul says that three times.

24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts
26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts.
28 Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind...

What do the scriptures mean by that phrase "God gave them over...?" This phrase happens at least 5 other times in scripture, and everyone of them pictures God's judgment on rebellious people and his judgment is to give them unrestrained freedom to go their evil ways, to follow their evil inclinations to their complete consequences. God's judgement on sin is greater sin.

How does God do this? To understand this, let me introduce/remind you to a concept called "common grace." We often think of common grace as God providing for people who are good and evil alike. But Theologians have always struggled with the question - "How can it be that people who want nothing to do with God can sometimes be such good people?" Theologians have asked how good things can come out of hearts that clearly do not have faith in God. The answer that they have come up with, is that the Law instilled in every heart and the Spirit of God which broods over creation together have a restraining influence on evil and a creative influence for good in this world and in culture. The Law and the Spirit brooding in creation together work a grace that is common to all that results in the many good qualities we see around us in society, in culture and in people. Because it is common to all, we call it common grace.

But what would happen if God were to remove this common grace? What would happen to you and I if God would remove his common grace from us? What would happen to culture if God were to remove his grace common to our culture?

In our hearts - the first sign would be that the conscience is seared, it loses its sensitivity to what is right and wrong. The awareness of law becomes but a memory in the process of justifying repeatedly actions we know to be wrong. The desire to be a person who does what is noble and right and pure and good even in the secrecy of our own hearts is abandoned. We might do things for image, we will not do them for principle. And we become, and this is very important, when God removes his common grace from us, we become victim to deceiving and seducing spirits that wage war against us, the devil who crouches at our door starts having a freedom of influence he never had before.

When God removes his common grace from a culture, lawlessness develops and flourishes. Breaking the law becomes a commonly justified societal action, conscience no longer corrects peoples activity. What once was known to be wrong starts being accepted as normal. When it comes to beauty and goodness, people no longer celebrate them, rather they celebrate distortion, degradation and freedoms which lead to that. And culture becomes more and more openly demonic, where the influence of spiritual forces is no longer hidden behind the guise of rational argument and artistic freedom, now it becomes open evil spiritual influence. Society starts living on the edge of chaos.

Now as I describe the removal of God's common creative and restraining grace, it might sound like it is a long way off. Our hearts are certainly not there and our culture has quite a bit further to go. But let me remind you once again that Paul when he describes the rebellion of the human heart, and the slide into distortion, he was speaking not only of his own heart, but the hearts of many who had come to know the gospel and the power of the gospel to set them free, he was talking about something very common in his society, and I suggest to you today, our society. What is the first evidence that God is judging a culture, and even individual's, by removing from them the protection and provision of his common grace?

Well, notice verse 24 and 25 - the first God gave them over illustration that Paul gives us.

24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator —who is forever praised. Amen.

The first thing that Paul narrows in on in sexual impurity, we might call it sexual immorality, the distortion that happens when sex which is designed for husband and wife starts being practiced outside of those boundaries. Paul makes it very clear in verse 25 that this distortion is a direct consequence of worshiping created things, idols, rather than the one true God, it is a direct consequence of exchanging the glory of God for a far inferior glory, that of images, idols and things.

Now the question we have to ask is why? Why would Paul focus on sex, sexual distortion, why would he highlight it as the first demonstration of God giving a people and a culture over, the first demonstration of God removing common grace? The answer to that has to do with Paul's knowledge of especially the Old Testament, idolatry, and this phrase "God gave them over." Turn with me to Hosea 9:10-12, a passage that Paul certainly had in his mind when he wrote these verses in Romans 1

Hosea 9:10-12 10

"When I found Israel,
it was like finding grapes in the desert;
when I saw your fathers,
it was like seeing the early fruit on the fig tree.
But when they came to Baal Peor,
they consecrated themselves to that shameful idol
and became as vile as the thing they loved.

(exchanged the glory of God for a vile glory)
11 Ephraim's glory will fly away like a bird—
no birth, no pregnancy, no conception.
12 Even if they rear children,
I will bereave them of every one.
Woe to them
when I turn away from them!

(God gave them over)

The key to understanding this passage is in Israel's history recounted for us in Numbers 22-25. You might remember the story. Balak, king of the Moabites and leader among the Midianites saw Israel journeying toward the promised land and feared being taken over by this massive group of nomads traveling from Egypt. So Balak sought to hire Balaam a seer or cultic prophet to cast curses upon Israel so that they would not prosper. The part of the story we tend to remember most is Balaam's stubborn speaking donkey - that's the part that we tend to remember from Sunday School. But as the story goes, as much as Balaam wanted to curse Israel and make a good income, four times all he was able to do was bless the nation of Israel. But then we come to chapter 25 and we discover that the Moabites have a new strategy - its called seduction. Moabite women started seducing the men of Israel and they started getting them involved in the cultic prostitution of an idol named Baal of Peor. Now everything we know about this historically tells us that this idol was a god of fertility and the rational behind it was you had to give a little to get a lot. Kind of an old time casino. Give a little sex, get a lot in return. So the men of Israel got involved, turning away from trusting and worshiping the one true God, they gave themselves to an idol, and very quickly, the seducing spirits which were behind the idol grabbed the attention and the imagination of the people of Israel, and they fell in love with the idol, its practices, they became vile like it, the original story tells us even how the people without conscience started doing these activities right in front of Moses, the one who had brought the law of God.

Remember that it was understood in the Old Testament that behind idols and cultures stood spiritual forces of evil. King Balak having discovered that he could not curse the people of Israel choose rather to seduce them with sex, bring them in league with his idols, promising them conception, pregnancy and birth and in the process, placing a spiritual hook through their nose that would captivate them to his control. And Hosea reminds God's people that there would be no conception, no pregnancy, no births, just God giving them over to destruction.

There too, the first consequence of exchanging the glory of God for the glory of lesser things like idols was sexual distortion very simply because that is the strategy that the powers of evil will resort to first to captivate the minds and hearts of a people.

This morning, I am running out of time, but again, this is practical, because remember, Paul is not talking about someone out there, he was talking about himself, he is talking about us.

Ask yourself this morning about our culture and about yourself? What has our culture done with sex? Have we kept it within the boundaries of man and woman as husband and wife?

No we haven't! Today, we live in what has been called a sexualized culture. Physical beauty is the most admired human quality. Its hard to see a movie without some sex in it, if not explicit, at least suggestive. Television sitcoms thrive by their sexual innuendo. Pornography is a big magazine business and it is and even bigger internet business. Experts estimate that between 50 and 60% of internet traffic is related to pornography. It is hard these days to have a email address and not discover that somebody has slipped pornography into your inbox. Our culture which affects each one of us has clearly gone the direction of Romans 1 - having exchanged the truth of God for lies, very quickly we see an uncommon freedom to follow the pathway of our desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. God's restraining common grace is being removed from our culture. Where the protection of God's common grace is removed, Satan is free to roam and devour, he attacks the weak, the wounded and the unprotected.

Who of us, to one degree or another has not experienced the spiritual dynamics of sex outside of God's boundaries? Have you noticed how, when a couple goes together, as their relationship deepens physically, they become almost irreversibly connected more and more? That was designed by God to lead to the consummation of marriage. But where the worship of God is rejected, Satan uses sex to seduce. If a young couple has chosen to have sex outside of marriage, it becomes almost impossible for them to become chaste again outside of the context of marriage. We can also talk about the issue of pornography. Haven't you noticed how, if you are watching a movie and that movie maybe by surprise contains some pornographic images, haven't you noticed how those images stay glued in your mind, lasting a lot longer than any other images that you may have seen? With one, and then another, Satan seduces, and before long, it is very possible to have an addiction through which Satan leads you back again and again to feed that addiction. I am not talking about things out there, I am talking about realities right here, in our congregation.

Sexual distortion becomes both the cause and the consequence of the common protecting grace of God removed, and as we slide down this slope, we are slide down a spiritual slope in which Satan's ultimate objective is to place a hook through our nose and lead us captive to his whim and will.

This morning, I understand that as I am bringing the Word of the Lord to you, that many of us here feel a weight of guilt because we know that our lives are not free from sexual distortion, and we have an appropriate burden of fear, because if God's common grace is removed from us, what will become of our lives when Satan has his way with us?

I am not ashamed of the gospel! Why? Because where God's common grace disappears, God's special grace is always present. 16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith."

The gospel has the power to save us from Satan's traps and seductions. The call of the gospel, no matter how deeply we are entrenched in Satan's grasp, is to turn to God, begin a process of repenting, turning away and committing every part of our bodies as instruments, not to sin, but to righteousness. Finding in Christ alone the righteousness that is pleasing to God. And what we discover is that as we live in community, in repentance before God, God by the power of the gospel and his very special grace in Christ will begin a process by which the glory of the living God is returned to us and we are set free from the tyranny of the devil.

This evening, at 5PM, I invite you to join us again as we look at one of the Old Testament kings, Manasseh, who did turn to idols, was literally hooked through the nose as a slave,  but then he truly turned to God, he became one of the kings who led Israel back to the living God away from idols.


(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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