As we work our way verse by verse through the book of Romans over a six-week period, let me throw at you a very simple outline – not of my creation, but one that has been used effectively over the years to quickly summarize this Pauline letter. It involves five words that begin with the letter “S” …
Sin 1:18-3:20 – A description of the lost condition of all mankind, regardless of their background or alleged morality.
Salvation 3:21-5:21 – Having proven like a courtroom lawyer that all mankind stands condemned before God, Paul gives the remedy in Christ. This is the truly great stuff in the book of Romans.
Sanctification 6:1-8:39 – Paul talks about the challenges of the new life in Christ, with the ongoing battle of the flesh and the spirit.
Sovereignty 9-11 – Paul answers here the question that would naturally arise about the Chosen People of God, now that Christ has come. And Paul shows that the Jews have a past, a present, and a glorious future.
Service 12-16 – The Christian life is more than fire insurance. Rather, it is about serving God by serving others.
So the book of Romans will talk about how all of that happens and how righteousness in the gospel prevails. And the first item is to make the case that, indeed, all mankind is totally lost and justly in line for God’s judgment. Paul will prove that whoever you are — Jew, Gentile, a really fine person compared to everyone else — you are a condemned sinner in a heap of trouble.
So today we begin with the issue of the sinful condition of mankind. This shouldn’t be hard to do, right? Everyone knows they’re a sinner. But obviously, since the vast majority of people are not worried about this by being keen to see the issue of their pending sentence of judgment, we have to spend time talking about the underestimated gravity of the sin situation.
Let me bring back at this point a writing I did one year ago on this passage …
Malcom Muggeridge, the British journalist and author, is famous for noting that “sin is the one thing that man tries to deny, but the one doctrine most easily proven.” Indeed, if you can’t see the problem in the world around you, just look into the mirror.
Before one can be “found,” one must understand that they are “lost.” Reflecting back to even my high school years and in times of sharing the gospel with people, I recall early on how it surprisingly seemed to me that the majority of people with whom I spoke had no sense of being lost or being in eternal danger.
I am unlikely to go to the doctor and pharmacy to get a prescription for something unless I am convinced that I have a medical condition that needs medicinal treatment.
Martin Luther famously wrote that … “The [manifold corruption of nature] should be emphasized, I say, for the reason that unless the severity of the disease is correctly recognized, the cure is also not known or desired. The more you minimize sin, the more grace will decline in value.”
So just how bad is the problem of sin? It’s bad … very bad. Paul writes …
Romans 2:18 – The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, 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 people are without excuse.
Paul says that God’s wrath — his anger at sin — is justly focused upon human sin, godlessness and wickedness. This is because people have suppressed the truth that is plainly evident to them, having been put there for them to clearly see by the creator God.
We are talking here about what we call “general revelation” or “natural revelation.”
John Calvin wrote best in speaking of this. In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, he taught that man was to look at himself, and also to look at the majesty of creation, and to sense that he was a creature in a created world. This should cause him to desire and seek to know the creator. But over time, this truth was lost, the natural condition of sin prevailed, and truth has been set upside-down.
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 a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
This is a history of the natural decline of the human condition after the fall of man. Truth was forgotten, foolishness and futility prevailed, and rather than the creature worshipping God, man fashioned his own stupid gods out of the materials of creation.
The remaining verses we look at today contain a statement repeated three times: “God gave them over…”
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 about 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 sexual 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 shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.
28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they 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 have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 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.
So, what does this mean that God gave them over? Does it mean that he gave up? Well, yes, in a sense. It is a Greek word (paradidomi) that means to give over, to hand over, to allow something — in the sense of giving up the resistance against an action.
So in this context it has the idea of God withdrawing his restraining and protective hand, thus allowing the consequences of sin to have their inevitable and destructive outcome.
That’s cold, that’s hard.
But wait, there’s more …
This is not the only time that “paradidomi” is used of God giving up. It is the verb in this sentence as well, later in Romans (8:32) “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”
But wait, there’s more …
It is used of what Christ did … “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
But wait, there’s more …
Again, of what Christ did as a model for us … “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
But wait, there’s more …
Again, of the model of Christ’s sacrifice … “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…”
So aren’t you glad that God didn’t give up on us, but that he gave up for us? That’s how you can get out of the heap big trouble you are in by being the descendent of Adam!