“For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Romans 1:21 ESV)
Last week Stephen Hawking died. Incredible mind. Incredible determination to do life from a wheelchair. Brilliant. Genius. Off the charts. But he denied the existence of God and sought to explain the universe without him. They named the movie about his life, The Theory of Everything. Hawking looked and looked, but ultimately didn’t find it.
When the truth is suppressed and the truth is denied, man has to live according to something. We were made to worship and if God isn’t our focus of worship, someone or something must take his place.
“Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” (Romans 1:22-23)
Truth is suppressed. Then denied. Then exchanged. What a horrible trade! The glory of immortal God. How much is he worth? It doesn’t matter to fallen man. Fallen man is ready to barter that away. Who wants to trade? I’ve got the glory of God. What will you give me for it? What does man trade for God’s glory? Images. Icons. We call them idols. In the ancient world they would make idols to represent their worship. These images could be anything, hence the description of men, birds, animals, and creeping things. The ancient world was filled with “gods,” most of which were made to look like something in this world. These counterfeit gods represented man’s worship of himself.
So these gods represented man’s most important priorities: material success, military success, fertility, sexual pleasure. From Baal to Ashteroth to Venus to Aphrodite. Man-made gods correlated to our desires in this world. Material success, power, and sex continue as gods to this day. We look to them for comfort, hope, and meaning. All of them are replacement gods for the one true God.
Friends, we have seriously traded down! Did you hear about the guy who traded his new Lamborghini for a used Yugo? Crazy! Who would do that? Somebody whose thinking had become completely futile. (That didn’t really happen, by the way. It’s just an example.)
Did you hear about the person who traded God for money? For moral independence? For sexual freedom? For fame? For anything? Who would do that? You and me and every person we know. Why? We suppress the truth. We deny the truth. And then we trade the truth in the worst deal of all time!
Our text for Easter will be verses 24-25. He basically says humans don’t see God in creation, rather they see creation as God. The ultimate rejection of the Creator who gifts a good creation to man is for man to choose the gift over the giver. The thing created instead of the one who created it. The result of wrong thinking and misplaced worship is immoral living.
“For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.” (Romans 1:26-27)
I want you to see something. Look at verse 24, “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts.” Verse 26, “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions.” Verse 28, “Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up.” That repetition is a general outline. Man fails to acknowledge God; God judges humanity by giving them up. This means that God gives us what we want. We demand freedom from God, and God says, if it’s freedom you want it’s freedom you’ll get.
“Divine judgment is God permitting people to go their own way.” (Robert H. Mounce) C.S. Lewis says this choice by man allows him to “Enjoy forever the horrible freedom they have demanded, and are therefore self-enslaved.” Rather than free to worship God, we are free to be self-enslaved. Sounds great, doesn’t it? This is like teenagers chafing under the authority of their parents, wishing they were free from the oppressive curfew and the requirement to make their beds. They have no idea that their parents’ care and love is restraining all kinds of horrific consequences in their lives. They think freedom is better, but it’s not long until they are living in a van down by the river.
God doesn’t have to enact punishment for sin. Sin is its own punishment. Perhaps not immediately, but over time, who pays the penalty for an immoral lifestyle? The chickens eventually come home to roost. We live in a moral world where sin corrodes us. Degrades us. It slowly and imperceptibly drains our life of meaning.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
© 2018 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.
 Robert H. Mounce, The New American Commentary: Romans, p. 81.
 C.S. Lewis as quoted by F.F. Bruce, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: Romans, p. 80.
To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here