In the previous article (on Romans 1:18-20), there were those upon whom God’s wrath was being revealed, as they suppressed the truth about Him that was evident to them.
Continuing in the first chapter of Romans, what happens when people deny the obvious “fingerprints” of God?
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.
Romans 1:21-23 NIV
Notice that these people “knew God”. Based on the previous passage, they apparently don’t have ignorance as an excuse. A commentator (Cottrell – see reference below) says that they removed “…the key element that makes sense of everything else.”
So, what did these people do? First, they failed to glorify and thank God. I may write a lot about glorifying and thanking God in these lessons, but this isn’t just a good idea, or something that we do because of a routine (where we come to church, for instance, or say grace before meals). Not doing these things appears to be a step in the process of bringing God’s wrath upon ourselves.
I’m not saying that if you forget to thank God for your food, He’ll rain down fire and brimstone upon you. However, if we were created to glorify God, and we fail to do so, we’re not really living up to our purpose.
The process continues. When someone doesn’t start with God, their thinking becomes futile, and their hearts darken. I think that pride led to the human race’s downfall in the Garden of Eden, and when anyone thinks that their own ideas are better than God’s (if we agree that God is the all-knowing Creator), it doesn’t matter how insightful they might claim to be, if their conclusions are contrary to what God has shared as truth.
According to this passage, the result in these people’s lives is that they turn to idols. Having the opportunity to know the glorious God (Jehovah), they “settle” for copies of things that God created. Isaiah 44 talks about this (see Isaiah 44:12-20), where someone cuts down a tree, uses half to cook his food and makes an idol out of the other half.
Skipping verse 24 (although you’re welcome to study the entire chapter) for now, verse 25 seems to be a good summary of the root cause of sin:
They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
Romans 1:25 NIV
God gives us the truth, but sin enters in when someone trades that truth for something else (which, if it’s not truth, must be a lie by definition), and they start down a bad path. (More examples about how bad this path can get are enumerated in later verses.)
Note that Paul takes this opportunity to glorify God! I don’t know if maybe he was convicted when he wrote (or dictated) that passage, or if he was just emphasizing that this is the better alternative (or maybe both). While those who turned away from God chose to not glorify and thank Him, Paul is setting a good example for his readers.
In the previous article, it was suggested that we first look inward, to ensure that our focus is on God. Once we have aligned our lives with God and His purpose for us, let us consider how we should react to other people. Do you see (or hear of) people in the world today trading the glory of God for idols? Are there those who have embraced behaviors that God tells us are wrong? Do any of the sins from verses 29-31 show up today?
If so, what else would you expect from those who have chosen not to follow God? Doesn’t God’s word tell us that this is the expected outcome of wickedness or unrighteousness? While the book of Romans may have been referencing first-century godlessness, I don’t think that the Roman civilization had a monopoly on these things.
Now, I’m not condemning everyone who has ever sinned (even those who have done some of the kinds of sins that are listed here, which probably includes most of us) as being lost from God. God is merciful and gracious, and we know that even followers of Jesus haven’t yet mastered their sinful nature enough to live entirely sin-free.
However, when someone’s proclaimed worldview explicitly excludes God, and their behavior looks like the things listed in this passage, we should not be surprised.
So, let us consider the process that leads people into sins. Rather than “working backwards” from their behavior (i.e., the outward manifestations of their hearts), let us consider the process by which sinful desires are given free reign. Each of our behaviors start with our reaction to God: If we thank and glorify Him, we can expect one outcome. If we choose to not treat Him as God, and reject the truth, then there is another predictable outcome.
The good news is that those who are lost down the path of sin (and its unpleasant consequences) don’t have to stay there. Let’s continue this study in the next article.
From Sunday School lesson prepared for January 2, 2022
- The Lookout, January 2, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press Commentary, Romans, Volume 1, by Jack Cottrell. College Press Publishing Company, © 1996.