Romans 1:18-25 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.
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.
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.
God would not allow me to title this message. As I wrestled with that, He said to me, “They need to title it for themselves. Each one of them needs to listen for my voice and come up with the title they believe captures what God is saying to them.” So, be listening, because at the end of the message, I am going to ask for some possible titles. I am trusting God to speak and am trusting He will give us ears to hear.
Allow me to read verse 18 once more time-The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness. That doesn’t sound good, does it? Paul alleges here that there has been a dismantling of truth,
Dismantling of Truth
There has been a suppression of truth which is the beginning of a big unraveling of a particular way of life. When you walk away from truth, you walk away from the kind of life it fosters, supports and sustains.
God’s Word is truth. (John 17:17) Unbelievers won’t agree on that reality, but there doesn’t need to be agreement from non-Christians in order for it to be so. God has revealed Truth in a Person, Jesus Christ, whose life is chronicled in His Word which is also Truth.
Verse 19 tells us the truth is plain. God is not playing “hide and seek” with the truth. He is actively revealing Himself. Verse 20 tells us that since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities, His eternal power, His Divine nature are demonstrated here on earth in such a way that no one can plead ignorance. No one can say, “I didn’t know there was a God or that He should have had my attention.”
Why would people want to suppress the truth? Perhaps it is an attempt to live however folks want and is an effort to try to minimize the conviction and consequences that come from doing so. I want you to hear my heart this morning. I believe, to our detriment, we have elevated open-mindedness over truth. We have assigned some kind of high moral status to open-mindedness and have elevated it over our quest for and commitment to the truth. In other words, it has become more popular to be open-minded than it is to be committed to the truth. There is a false narrative today that says that people who are morally superior are those who believe truth is up to each person to determine.
I will admit that truth is narrow. When Jesus says He alone is the way, the truth and the life and that no one can have a relationship with God except through Him, that is a narrow path, for sure. The beauty of that statement, however, is that anyone who wants to, can choose that path. In that sense, while the way to God is narrow, the appeal is broad. Anyone can make the trip. However, in our day and time, it has become more desirable to be open-minded than it is to be committed to the narrowness of the truth.
Do not mishear me. I am not saying we shouldn’t be committed to living generously with others. I am not suggesting we should stop living graciously as we give allowances for people to exercise their personal will. I am not saying we should not be loving or patient or kind or open to the reality that people are in all different phases of their faith which may mean their lives don’t look exactly like ours. We cannot expect unbelievers to act like believers, and we can’t expect baby Christians to behave as if they are seasoned saints. I am simply saying, truth is fixed which means it cannot be determined by the exploration of an open mind.
Again, verse 19 tells us the truth is plain. Do you want to know why we live in such a complicated and confused society with so many diverse opinions? It is because, in part, many people have abandoned the truth. The truth streamlines things. The truth is a unifier. It is the false god of open-mindedness that leads us to as many conclusions as there are people which makes it impossible to claim that each person’s ideologies are true. Do you get that? If ten people each have the opportunity to determine truth and they all spend time thinking about the possibilities and dreaming about their idea regarding what a certain situation should look like, I guarantee each would come to a different conclusion. Truth doesn’t have competing conclusions. If we look to God, the Author of Truth, and to His Word we can be brought together under the principles we find there.
Here is why I think people have suppressed and sought to dismantle the truth: Truth flies in the face of personal autonomy. In other words, if you acknowledge that truth exists, you have to acknowledge a Creator of that truth. Once you do that, you have to wrestle with submission to Him or running your own life. The suppression of truth is a decision people make to be their own god. To suppress the truth is to turn away from God’s authority in your life. Verse 21 says that even though people knew God, they made a decision to turn from Him. Personal autonomy, the governing of our own lives, will result in an abandonment of the truth in favor of individual expression and individual preferences which is a turning from God and a turning towards self.
Verse 25 tells us that the people Paul was describing exchanged the truth about God for a lie. They chose to worship and serve the things of this world which aren’t life-giving, which have no authority or power, and which lead to destruction. That leads me to the next issue Paul addressed here:
Disregard for the Worship of God
Verse 21 tells us that these people knew enough about God through His creation, they knew enough to worship Him, but they chose not to. Verse 25 says they worshiped created things rather than the Creator.
One truth that gets suppressed is that God is the Creator of all things. If you ascribe to the idea that God did not create you, it makes sense that you would look for something else to worship. We all have an ache in our hearts to connect to something that gives our life meaning, value and purpose. In other words, we all long to be attached to, to worship something, someone greater than ourselves. Satan’s lie is that our worth and value, our fulfillment and purpose, are tied to the things of this world when in fact our contentment and joy come from being connected in relationship to the God who created us, who in an intentional, hands-on way, fashioned us for specific purposes. There is no way we could discover those purposes inside a relationship with money or sex or social media. How could something on the outside of me give my life definition and meaning? Only God, who knows the purposes for which we have been created, as He moves in our souls, as He leads our minds, as He conditions our hearts, can help us discover those purposes.
Just think about this for a moment: An open mind can lead to an open heart which means affection that once was rightly shown to God gets transferred to idols, vices, and earthly lusts.
At the moment when the worship of God becomes optional for a believer, he or she is in trouble. It can happen quickly. Allow me a moment of vulnerability here. I know we have many worshiping online who are worshiping from home right now and we have many here in the house who are also seeking to express their worship to God, but I do have a concern about many who I no longer see in the house or logging on to the livestream. I know not everyone can be on site during this time, but most who can’t be could still be online, but some folks have gone missing. And I am just behind honest…as a pastor, I worry about folks drifting away spiritually. It can be a tough habit to re-establish once our heart’s start to desire other things which can cause a whole host of problems.
We really need worship. We need to stay God-centered. We need to stay throne-centered. We need to be fixed on the majesty and power of God. We need to experience the manifest presence of God that descends in the atmosphere of worship. Otherwise, we will be pulverized by our anxieties, fears, and trials. Worship reminds us how big God is and what He can do. Worship keeps our hearts and minds aligned with the will of God and births the desires of God in us, snuffing out our desires for the wrong things. We learn to want what God wants for us as we worship Him. Worship gets our hearts and minds pulled into the realm of faith where we can get supernatural breath and strength to face the world. We absolutely need to be faithful to the worship of God.
Dissipation of Gratitude
Paul also talks about a dissipation of gratitude in Verse 21. Not only did people quit worshiping God as Creator, but they quit thanking Him. You know what happens to people when they quit being thankful? They become negative, cynical, critical, grouchy, irritable, argumentative and zero fun to be around. Besides that, I believe a lack of gratitude stops the flow of God’s blessings in our life. I could go several places in Scripture to back that up, friends. God didn’t care for the complaining spirit of the Israelites in the wilderness when they didn’t like what was on the menu, now did He? The Apostle Paul tells us to do everything without grumbling, Philippians 2:14.
We have so much to be thankful for. Even in the midst of this pandemic we have countless reasons to thank and praise the Lord. Gratitude is one of the gateways to God. Think about it. Psalm 100 tells us to “Enter His gates with thanksgiving and to come into His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him and praise His name.”
Oh, thank God for a place to live, food to eat, clothes to wear and transportation to get here, but also just thank God because He is God. Thank Him for what He did for you when He sent Jesus to pay the price for your sins. Thank Him that His love is everlasting and that His patience is still suffering long for us. Thank Him that His mercies are new every morning and that great is His faithfulness. Thank Him that His plans are good, that His ways are high, that His peace is unshakeable. Thank Him that He hears and answers prayers. Thank Him that He comes closer when you are grieving and overwhelmed. Thank Him that He is working things out in your life. Thank Him that Heaven will be your home one day.
When you recognize the Source of your daily blessings through gratitude, you are drawing nearer to that Source. When you thank God for what you have and who He is, you are demonstrating humility and humility is the correct heart posture in order to live life successfully. If you believe success in life depends on you, you will live stressed out and will stress out everyone else around you, but if you stay bowed down through disciplines like the discipline of gratitude, you will be raised up, and you will be empowered to do great things.
You see, gratitude keeps us grounded in the real Source of our strength. It keeps us from relying on ourselves. Am I making sense? If I am constantly thanking God for what I have and for all He has provided, it keeps me from patting myself on the back, from trying to elevate myself as if I have created anything good or successful. Listen, you want to succeed in life, cultivate a spirit of gratitude towards God. James 4:6 tells us that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Do you know that God’s grace is a form of God’s power? The more thankful you are, the more God’s power will flow into your life to enable you to deal with the drama that is swirling about you. Oh, gratitude is the pathway to God, friends.
And verse 21 tells us that a lack of worship and thanksgiving led these people to futile thoughts. What does Paul mean by futile thoughts? A person who has futile thoughts is incapable of producing anything useful. Their thoughts are pointless. That almost sounds like a drug-induced state to me. If your thoughts are pointless, and you cannot focus on anything productive where does that leave you? It leaves you to be led not by the Spirit of God whom you have rejected and not even by your own intellect which you have abandoned, but it leaves you to be led by your impulses, your lusts which Paul highlights next.
Development of Sinful Desires
Listen again to verse 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.” Notice where the sinful desires resided. In their hearts. They had abandoned the truth which is an anchor for your heart, for your affections. Truth keeps you spiritually grounded. It keeps you tied to reality when temptation would suggest otherwise. They had also discontinued the worship of God which would have kept them conscious of the fact that God had a plan for their lives, a will for their lives, a destiny for them to fulfill. So, they turned their back on the truth and on the worship of God, and they became their own source as they quit being thankful to God. No wonder sin got ahold of their hearts. No wonder their hearts became dark. They rejected the things of the light with each decision to turn away from truth, from worship and from thanksgiving. Their minds then went dark and the light in their hearts was then snuffed out.
This I know: God won’t stand in our way when we are set on turning our backs on Him. When we turn our backs on truth, when we view worship as optional, when we won’t recognize God by thanking Him for His many blessings and when we move into the kind of spiritual stupor that bypasses our minds and involves the lowest level lustful instincts and we act on them God will not stand in our way. He has given us free will. He won’t stand in our way. He won’t, but we should not be surprised that, verse 18, the wrath of God was being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people who do those things. I submit to you that God’s wrath includes Him simply letting you go your sinful way and allowing you to face the consequences that come from doing so.
God will not stop us from going against Him, from abandoning truth, from going our own way. Verse 24 is proof: Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. He turned them loose to be led by their fleshly lusts. That can never have a happy ending, friends.
Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us to trust in the Lord with all of our heart and lean not on our own understanding, but in all our ways to acknowledge God and to allow Him to lead and direct our paths. The people in Romans 1 trusted their own wisdom. Verse 22 says they claimed to be wise, but they were fools. They worshiped that which could never save them. They gave their affection to that which could never satisfy. Fools indeed.
If we are trusting in the Lord with all of our heart, we will accept He is the One who has established truth. We will not elevate open-mindedness above the truth which God has made plain. We will acknowledge Him by thanking Him daily for His provision and care. That is the way to not lean on our own understanding.
Acknowledging God in all of your ways means seeking His leadership, His will, in every area of your life. What you should study, where you should work, who you should be friends with, who you ought to marry, what hobbies you pursue, how you should spend your money, what you should do with your free time, what you listen to and look at, how you deal with conflict, what you do with your body and what you put into your body, who you should vote for, what you post on social media and especially how you deal with the temptation to sin should all be under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
Many people are praying for revival. I’m one of them. We sure need it, but revival will not come without repentance and a return to the things of God, without a return in our hearts to God as the supreme authority for our lives. Do you need to make a return today? Do you find yourself asking, “How did I get here?” How did I get to the place where I could degrade and disrespect my body and think that that was ok? How could my heart have grown so cold to the things of God? How could my mind have become so confused and unfocused?
Can you trace it back to a low level of gratitude for God’s work and blessing in your life? Can you trace it back to a lack of intentional, purposeful or passionate worship in your life?
Can you trace it back to a wandering from the truth in pursuit of your own preferences and ideals?
What is God saying to you right now? And as you listen to Him, answer this question. If you had to title this message right now, what title would you give it?