Romans 1:18-32- God’s Wrath on Unrighteousness

Explanation- Paul opens this section up with the word ‘for’, which draws our attention to the preceding verses. If the righteous are to live by faith, then it suitably follows that the unrighteous will be characterized by their lack of faith. This unrighteousness is in fact a willful ignorance on behalf of these men because the evidence of God exists all around them. Creation clearly testifies to the glory of God’s master craftsmanship. Whether through the beauty of a flower, or the powerful force of a hurricane; God’s workings are gloriously displayed in the natural order.  That is why Scripture is without error when it states that, ‘The fool has said in his heart, there is no God.’ (Ps.14:1). For this reason, man stands without excuse before the face of the Almighty; for what can be known of Him has been revealed throughout all of His creation, and the conscience bears witness to His law written on their hearts. In context, Paul is revealing the plight of man. All men have gone astray and sought their own path. Even those who have come to a saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ were at one time clothed in unrighteousness and inevitably were under the heavy hand of God’s wrath. I have heard it said that, ‘God does not believe in atheists’, and to this I would give a hearty amen. The natural order provides man with enough information to reveal the truth of God’s existence, yet the natural order is unable to save a men when left to itself. Creation bears witness to God’s design and creativity but the Scriptures bear witness to God’s character and person. This is the difference between natural revelation and special revelation. The former being that which we can gather based on the evidence around us, and the latter being what only God Himself can reveal through the medium of Scripture. Creation is not enough to save a man, but it is enough to condemn his conscience before God. They have claimed themselves to be wise in their own conceits, yet they are utter fools before the sight of God.

A terrifying reality exists amongst those who continually refuse the knowledge and fear of the Lord; He gives them over to their sin. Paul uses three expressions to explain this. First, he says that God, ‘gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity.’ (v. 24). This giving over carries with it the idea of being delivered up to judgement or to be condemned. The shocking truth that this presents is that these defilements do not lead to judgement, but are in fact a form of judgement that has already been passed by God. These impurities refer to those things which are morally wrong and inexcusable. They are literally unclean in thought and in life. Christ uses this term in reference to the Pharisees in Matthew 23:27 when He graphically compares them to whitened sepulchers full of dead men’s bones. They may display some external semblance of life, but in reality they are inwardly dead.

The second phrase Paul gives is, ‘God gave them up to dishonorable passions’ (v. 26). The key word here is ‘dishonorable’, or as the King James translates it ‘vile’. A passion is simply a feeling that the mind suffers; what drives the passions is the key component here. In those who have been given over by God, the passions have become vile and corrupted. They are seeking after that which is unnatural, and therefore dishonorable. Paul gives the example of men who turn to other men for intimate love and women who do likewise. Because they have become defiled, they are consumed with this unnatural passion for one another and commit shameful acts without the conscience’s interference and, as a result, are trapped under the penalties of their errors.

The final (and arguably the most weighty) phrase that Paul uses is that, ‘God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.’ (v. 28). This word debased, or ‘adokimos’, is the combination of the two Greek words ‘alpha’, which forms a negative particle (lit. ‘without’) when it is placed before the word ‘dokimos’ (lit. accepted). It literally means that which does not prove itself or is without value or acceptance. ‘Dokimos’ is a word that was often used in reference to genuine and acceptable currency. Donald Grey Barnhouse notes that:

In the ancient world there was no banking system as we know it today, and no paper money. All money was made from metal, heated until liquid, poured into moulds and allowed to cool. When the coins were cooled, it was necessary to smooth off the uneven edges. The coins were comparatively soft, and of course many people shaved them closely. In one century, more than eighty laws were passed in Athens to stop the practice of whittling down the coins then in circulation. But some money-changers were men of integrity, who would accept no counterfeit money; they were men of honour who put only genuine, full-weight money into circulation. Such men were called dokimos[1]

With this positive definition in mind, we are able to better understand the negative one that Paul is referencing. Those who have been given over to a debased mind can be compared to counterfeit currency. They are rendered worthless and are indeed good for nothing. They are despised, rejected, and unfit for any good use. The debased mind is on that rejoices in unrighteousness and cannot rest unless it has caused some kind of evil. They are filled with all things that are abominable before the sight of God and know that they are worthy of His just judgement. In spite of this reality, they not only delight in their wicked practices but also encourage others to partake in them as well. This is the most terrifying reality there is. To be given over entirely to the sin of one’s heart without any intercession of conscience or standard of morality is the ultimate form of judgement that God can pass on a man in this life. Yet we must remember that if the Lord Jesus Christ did not intercede in our own lives, this could have very well been our lot as well.

Application- When we think of a reprobate mind, undoubtably names such as Adolf Hitler, Jeffrey Dahmer, and John Wayne Gacy (as well as others) may come to mind. But what we must realize is that these men placed before us were not infected with a sin condition any worse than our own. Each on of us, since the fall of Adam, has been under the curse of sin and is capable of unsurmountable evil. There is no sin that is not common to man, what on is capable of, so is the next. If God were to remove His hand of restraining grace from any one of us we could in turn become the next Adolf Hitler, or even worse. Before our own conversion, God placed natural means in our lives to curb the appetite for sin to a certain degree. These may have included law enforcement, conscience, parents, friends, fear of consequences, distracting pastimes, moral teaching, friends, and so forth. Each one of these was designed, in part, for the purpose of restraining the wildfire of sin that burns in our hearts. A healthy fear of consequence, disapproval, or even shame kept us from the evil that we were capable of. Upon conversion we were no longer held subject to these types of restraint but were brought under subjection to the law of grace. We no longer fear sin merely because of the consequences it bears but are more concerned with offending the God who we love. He has given us new hearts and a new passion to seek after that which is good, noble, and just. That is not to say that we will never sin or that sin does not remain in us, but it is no longer a pleasant experience; it has become grievous and despised. Sin is contrary to our new nature in Christ and when we partake of its bitter fruit, we are left utterly unsatisfied.  At the end of the day it is only by God’s magnificent grace that we have escaped from sin’s deathly grasp, and in reality, we were no better or more worthy than those who have not escaped. In light of this, it is our great duty and privilege to pray diligently for the souls of men who remain in such a condition. It very well may be that God will show grace to them like He has to you and me.

[1] Barnhouse, Donald Grey. Gods Glory: Exposition of Bible Doctrines, Taking the Epistle to the Romans as a Point of Departure. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964, 18.