“God Gave Them Up” — Part Two
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“God Gave Them Up” — Part Two

Romans 1:26–27  (ID: 3576)

The apostle Paul taught that a society’s moral collapse is evidence of God’s wrath. Walking us through Paul’s teaching on immorality in the opening chapter of Romans, Alistair Begg points out that the same issues that faced the early church—including sexual sin—still abound today. Rather than adapting to the world’s standards, however, the church is called to uphold the Bible’s authority with kindness and compassion, because all of us are sinners in need of God’s saving grace.

Series Containing This Sermon

God’s Power for Salvation

Gospel Hope for a Romans 1 World Romans 1:16–32 Series ID: 28801

Sermon Transcript: Print

Well, I invite you to turn to Romans and to chapter 1 and to verses 26 and 27, to which we come in the course of these studies, which we began on Reformation Sunday with the great declaration of the gospel and of the salvation that is there in the gospel for everyone who believes.

Verse 26 and 27:

“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.”

Father, as we turn to these verses, we ask for your grace, that the tenor of this truth, the tone of my voice, the response of our hearts may be that which is pleasing in your sight. And we ask it humbly in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Well, let me begin with a straightforward statement. The moral disintegration of society—the moral disintegration of society—provides visible evidence in the here and now of what Paul says in verse 18: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness.” In other words, Paul says, “Look at the world in which you live—look at it, and see how messed up it is—and you will have plenty of evidence of the fact that God is angry”—not angry in the way that we are angry, where it’s fitful and often unkind, but just the settled reaction of God’s absolute holiness to our disinterest in him and the chaos which flows from that.

We’ve been learning in these studies that we live, actually, in a runaway world. We like to suggest somehow or another that God is hiding from us, but we actually come to realize that it is we who are hiding from him. We think we’re very bright, but we suppress the truth—the truth that he has given. We deny the fact that he has made himself known clearly in the universe in which we live—that his divine power, his attributes, are seen. And as a result of that, we are absolutely without excuse when we choose not to worship him or to thank him. When we refuse to know God as he has made himself known, we don’t give up on worship; we actually just worship something else or someone else.

And what becomes apparent is that when we have broken the connection between the Creator, who made us purposefully for himself, that we might know him, love him, trust him, and follow him—that with the loss of a knowledge of him, which is a denial of him, we struggle to actually know who we are ourselves. That sounds like a funny thing to say, but it’s not uncommon for people to say, “Well, I’m looking for myself,” or “I’m searching for myself,” or “I’m looking for the real me.” In fact, there’s a whole catalog of opportunities to go in the average bookstore and try and find out who you are.

And of course, it’s nothing new. One of my favorite songs from the ’70s was written by Roger Hodgson. His mom and dad sent him away to boarding school for ten years to try and make some sense out of him. And it was out of that context in ’79 that he wrote,

When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful,
A miracle. It was beautiful, magical,
And all the birds in the trees, they’d be singing so happily,
Joyfully, playfully watching me.
But then they sent me away to teach me how to be sensible,
Logical, responsible, practical.
Then they showed me a world where I could be so dependable,
Clinical, intellectual, cynical.

But there are times when all the world’s asleep;
The questions run too deep
For such a simple man.
Won’t you please, please tell me what we’ve learned?
I know it sounds absurd,
But please tell me who I am.[1]

Who am I? Who are you? What are you? A collection of molecules held in suspension? It’s a question. It’s a question that is addressed in the Bible, and it’s answered in the Bible. What Paul goes on to say is that when we refuse the light, then we descend into darkness. We worship the things that we’ve made. It’s an absolutely silly idea. In fact, he says, “You’ve become futile in your thinking. And behind a facade of wisdom, what you’re really doing,” he says, “is committing moral and intellectual suicide.”[2] That’s why in verse 24, if your Bible is open, it says that “God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts” to actually give themselves to the things that they had put in place of God. And because they “exchanged the truth about God for a lie,” instead of enjoying purity, they embraced uncleanness, and they began to dishonor “their bodies among themselves.”[3] Isn’t that an interesting thing to say? “God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity,” and then there was a kind of communal dishonoring of their bodies.

Now, all of that brings us to verse 26. And I’ve done that for anybody who’s visiting: that was a summary of the last three studies. The people who were present for them said, “I wish you had done that earlier. We’d have been home a lot earlier for lunch.” But the fact is, you need something of that, because you’re saying, “How do you end up at verse 26 on this particular day, this Sunday in Advent?” Well, we’re here because we were there before.

And so, here we have exchange number three. Exchange number three. They’ve already been identified as exchanging the glory of God for things that creep and crawl.[4] They’ve “exchanged the truth [of] God for a lie.” And now here we see that they exchanged the normal, natural function of human sexuality for that which is contrary. In fact, what we’re discovering here in this twenty-sixth verse is that God has given them up to something which contemporary society regards as an alternative lifestyle but which the Bible pronounces to be an abomination, to be a perversion.

The matter of human sexuality as described and prescribed by Scripture is not just a difficult subject; it is also an unpopular subject, and it is in large measure one that is regarded as offensive. This kind of reaction is not unusual. I was speaking at a college, a university out on the West Coast a few years ago now—maybe three, I can’t remember—and I had the temerity to say in the course of my address to these young people that the only place for sexual intercourse was in a marriage between a man and a woman—a heterosexual, monogamous, lifelong marriage. And a great number of them all got up and walked out. And subsequently, they got in touch with me to say that my services would no longer be required again at that particular university. I’d spoken there for twelve successive years. But in simply saying, “This is what the Bible says,” it was over.

So, in coming to this this morning, I come to it fearful in many ways. I come to it with caution; with, I hope, a measure of compassion; but also with conviction—the conviction that God’s Word is absolutely perfect, that God’s way is absolutely perfect, that God knew exactly what he was doing when he put us together the way he put us together, and that anything that runs foul of that runs foul of God’s intentions.

When our longings are no longer filled by God, who has made us for himself, the longings don’t go away. The longings then have to be satisfied.

And Paul is actually describing the consequences of the world when it refuses to worship God as he is. And some people, when they read this, think that Paul was exaggerating the case—that somehow or another, he was taking a perspective on Roman culture that was esoteric, that was unique to him, that other people who didn’t believe what he believed would see it differently. But history actually refutes that notion. A historian points out, “There is nothing that Paul said … that [Roman writers] had not … already said”—namely, that “society from top to bottom was riddled with unnatural vice” and that “fourteen out of the first fifteen Roman Emperors were [themselves] homosexuals.”[5] So the idea somehow or another that Paul is just sort of sidling up to this is not a case. In fact, he’s very courageous, I think, to write as he does. And what needs a measure of courage: to report what it is he said.

The link is clear between idolatry and moral degeneracy. Idolatry and moral degeneracy. They refuse to believe in God, they refuse to worship God, and impiety leads to immorality, and the immorality gets deeper as it goes. In other words, what the Bible says is that God’s judgment is in handing men and women over to lives which are disordered and lives which are dishonorable. In other words, when our longings are no longer filled by God, who has made us for himself, the longings don’t go away. The longings then have to be satisfied. I’ve got to satisfy the answer about my identity. I’ve got to satisfy the answer for the longings of my heart—for peace, for fulfillment, for joy, for satisfaction, for sexual fulfillment, whatever it might be.

And in the course of that, the immorality is a revelation of the idolatry. The circumstances that are described here are symptomatic of idol worship. And all of us are involved in idol worship. We don’t have little things on our desks, probably, but we know what it is to worship other things—to worship ourselves, first of all: “I’m the captain of my ship. I am the champion of my destiny. Nobody’s going to tell me what I’m supposed to do. I’ll make my own decisions. I’ve got my own ethics. I’ll plan things the way I want to plan.” That’s sufficient. That’s enough. That’s idolatry. That’s the autonomous self. We can also worship fame. We can also worship satisfaction. We can also worship sex. We can also worship money. We can also worship our intellect. There is no end to it. We’re capable of producing idols like nobody’s business.

And that idolatry is revealed in immorality. It’s important you understand that. Why is America in the mess it’s in? Because we worship Baals. Because we don’t worship the true and living God. “Super Baal” Sunday is an amazing illustration of what really turns America on. And a halftime show is as good an illustration of the degenerate nature of our longings and our enjoyments. You say, “Well, you’re an old fuddy-duddy.” I admit to that freely. That’s okay.

But no, he says, they exchanged the glory of God for crawling things, they exchanged the truth for a lie, and now they exchanged natural sexual intercourse for what is unnatural. Notice: “For their women exchanged natural relations [with] those that are contrary to nature.” The words that he uses here are actually “female” and “male.” It’s an echo—and a deliberate echo, I think, on Paul’s part—of Genesis chapter 1, where we read, “So God created man”—qua man, humanity—“God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him”—humanity, Adam—“male and female he created them.”[6]

And Paul immediately picks this up, and he says, “Even those who were made female.” In fact, in the King James Version, it uses that little word, “even.” It says, “for even [the] women…” “Even [the] women.” Why does it say “even [the] women”? Hodge, an earlier commentator, suggests that the reason for Paul addressing the degradation of women first is “because they are always the last to be affected in the decay of morals, and their corruption is therefore proof that all virtue is lost.”[7] It’s an interesting thought. I’m not sure he would say the same thing if he were alive today, because things have shifted dramatically since he wrote that commentary. And I think we could talk about that for a while, but we won’t.

Be clear as well that when Paul uses “natural” here, versus “unnatural,” he is describing the world as God made it. Don’t allow yourself the luxury of saying, “Well, I have to decide what ‘natural’ means for me.” Now, “natural” refers to how God made the world. And again, Paul is not saying something unusual. If you read, which you do, you’ll discover that Plato, whose name you know, described females uniting with females as contrary to nature.[8] What does he mean by that? He means the natural, material order as God made men and women. The Stoics —remember the Stoics and the Epicureans when Paul addresses them in Acts chapter 17—the Stoics taught that the proper use of objects was according to nature. I’m not going to delineate “objects” for you, okay? But what they’re actually saying is there’s a place for everything and everything in its place. And when you want to know what you do with those objects, well, then you do it according to nature. And failure to follow common sense and the inner law of one’s being was, said the Stoics, against nature.

It is not an alternative lifestyle. It is an unnatural decision. It is an expression of rebellion against God: “I will decide who I am, what I am, what I’m doing, and with whom I am doing it.” That is where it finds itself. The material shape of the created order is there for observation. Anatomy, physiology, biology—all of them, without theology—testify to God’s perfect plan, which, when violated, leads to chaos, to sadness, and to despair.

Let me just give to you a quote here that will stagger you a little bit, and that’s okay. But this is a professor of psychiatry from Case. And I read… I have a piece—I have it here, actually—from 1991, when I found this professor. And… Yeah, I think he’s retired now. So this is a doctor:

Homosexuality is another psychosocial epiphenomenon accompanying an unnatural, first learned then preferred method of orgasm created in an over-sexualized subculture or in a culture [where] nature is ignored.

Homosexuality is a learned feigned set of behaviors that become automatic. These sets of behaviors introduce, rationalize, reinforce and support an over-enthusiastic (addiction) to orgasm which is unrecognized as merely a simple physiologic reflex. It begins with the universal doubts of oneself in childhood, the doubts never resolving but merging with identity to become a learned way of life, sexualized to orgasm without gender consideration (therefore met most readily by others with the same set of behaviors,) and then the whole charade covered over by a label (“homosexuality” for one) with the affected styles accompanying the label.

Now, that is not some crazy fundamentalist from down in the South. That’s a professor of psychiatry. I’m sure he couldn’t last very long making those statements. Probably he retired when he should. I don’t know.

But there you have it: “for even [the] women…” Unnatural. Verse 27: “and the men likewise.” He’s more detailed here when he comes to the men. I wonder if Paul had in mind when he came to this matter what he says when he writes in Ephesians 5, about “It is [a] shameful [thing] even to speak of the things that they do in secret.”[9] “It is [a] shameful [thing] … to speak of the things … they do in secret.” And I’m not about to speak of “the things they do in secret.” But at the same time, we have to be prepared to acknowledge what is done in secret! Everything is glossed over. Everything is beautiful. Everything is “This is the way it should possibly be. This is time for rainbows and kisses and bows on ponies and everything.”

Have you ever had one of your friends arrested in a cinema in Soho because he went there to engage in an illicit sexual encounter with anybody that was present? I have. Have you read the book Philomena, and read there of the unfolding drama of pain and sadness and anger and disappointment and pain that is embedded in the personal testimony of the fellow who was the son of Philomena, who had given him up for adoption in the convent in the South of Ireland fifty years before? She tracks him down, and she finds him. I mention it only because of the honesty that is contained in that book, and the sadness. ’Cause it all takes place right along the time that AIDS was first encountered, that HIV was first discovered. And the story is right at the heart of that.

Now, Paul, two thousand years before, is describing the situations that were prevalent in both Greek and Roman culture. They “gave up natural relations.” In other words, they made a decision, a choice. They gave up the possibilities there, and they “were consumed with passion for one another.”

To say this, to propound this, is immediately to be regarded as harsh or judgmental or bigoted. But the Bible is really clear, loved ones. Homosexuality is unnatural. It’s a violation of God’s created order. It’s not the greatest sin, but it is the clearest evidence of a society’s defiance of God. When a culture finally reaches this place, where now even manhood and womanhood, gender itself, is deconstructed and reconstructed according to whatever agenda the individual has, whatever ethical set of norms they’ve decided to embrace, then the culture is in deep trouble. When you live in a society that’s got more concern for its animals than it’s got for children in the womb, you’re living in a putrefying culture. When you live in a culture where men and women are unclear as to why they were made, how they were made, who made them, and what they’re supposed to be doing and allow them to do whatever they choose, you’re living in a really, really weird place.

Christopher Ash, in his book Remaking a Broken World, quotes J. D. Unwin, who “studied 86 different societies spanning 5000 years,” and “he found an unexpected and direct correlation between sexual continence and the ability of a society to grow and remain healthy. He concluded, ‘In human records there is no instance of a society retaining its energy after a complete new generation has inherited a tradition which does not insist on pre-nuptial and post-nuptial continence.’”[10] “Prenuptial and postnuptial continence.”

This week in The Times: “The Damaging Sexual Degradation of the Young.” A new movement—new to me, at least. It’s called sex positivity. It “encourages sexual pleasure … experimentation … regards all consensual sex as fundamentally healthy. No moral distinctions [to be] made among types of sexual activities—that’s regarded purely as a matter of personal preference.”[11] Says Melanie, commenting on it, she says,

There’s a glaring contradiction in this happy state of sexual license which doesn’t seem to have occurred to any of them, and which illustrates the shallow self-centeredness, ignorance and self-destructiveness at the very core of … western culture.

Sexual license—libertinism—has not formed a pathway to liberation but to degradation, enslavement and loneliness. A shocking number of individuals are paying the steepest possible price, and an entire culture is crumbling as a result, while those responsible for this terrible damage sneer at their critics and preen themselves amidst the ruins.[12]

And you might actually—see, she might have added verse 32: “[And] they not only do them but [they] give approval to those who practice them.” That’s exactly where it is.

And Toynbee—Toynbee, again in that same quote—said that “of the twenty-two civilizations that have appeared in history, nineteen of them collapsed when they reached the moral state [of] the United States … right now.”[13]

“Consumed with passion, … committing shameless acts … receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.” John Murray says, “However grievous is fornication or adultery”—and it is—“the desecration involved in homosexuality is on a lower plane of degeneracy; it is unnatural and therefore evinces a perversion more basic.”[14]

In the moral squalor, in the brokenness of our culture, we find a clear evidence of the wrath of God revealed from heaven. The actual immorality is not the cause; it’s the evidence. It’s what happens when we turn in upon ourselves. What kind of penalty “in themselves”? People immediately jump to all kinds of conclusions. I found Shedd very helpful. He said surely “the recompense,” or the penalty, that they endure consists in “the gnawing unsatisfied lust itself, together with the dreadful physical and moral consequences of debauchery.”[15] There’s an old word. It just simply means excessive indulgence in sensual pleasure.

Now, where are we? Well, we’re living now in a culture where things have changed dramatically over time. Years ago, I think probably in the early ’70s, there were two fellows, professors at one of the New England universities, both homosexuals, and both observing the way in which their design for the invasion of homosexual thought and acceptance would be effectively accomplished. And in talking with each other, they said, “This is not going well. We need to have a different strategy.”

And this is what they said: “First of all, we will get the culture to sympathize with us.” “To sympathize with us.” Now, if you’ve lived through this, you know this is true. Because it starts off, “Please do not be unkind to me, and do not say bad words about me, because I have a problem.” Right? “I am not doing things naturally. Sympathize with me.”

“Secondly,” they said, “what we’ll do is we’ll not only have them sympathize, but we’ll make sure that they normalize these things. We’ll normalize it”—so that people begin to say, “Well, you know, there’s a lot of it happening. I saw a movie the other day. I read a book the other day. It just seems so normal.” And of course, all the figures from the media make it sound as though there’s a wholesale revolution. Everybody’s coming out of the woodwork. It’s a flat-out lie, okay? But, “We’ll normalize.”

“And then, thirdly,” they said, “what we will do is we will demonize.” Okay? Sympathize, normalize, demonize. What do they mean by “demonize”? “Anybody that says that this is not true, that this is not legitimate, that this is not an obvious alternative, we will demonize them. We will cancel them. We will remove them.”

Where are we? We’re right here! Because we live in a culture where no longer is it simply tolerated, but it is affirmed, from the World Cup through the entire spectrum of Western culture. And ironically, here’s a quote from a politician this week: “Do we really want, here, in our country, … instead of ‘mum’ and ‘dad,’ to have ‘parent number one,’ ‘parent number two’ or ‘parent number three’? Have they gone completely insane?” Vladimir Putin, and the response of Russia in establishing a gay propaganda bill to make sure that they will not allow their culture to be invaded by this stuff at the level of media, education, and family life. You can say what you like about Russia. It seems to me that we have been trying that before.

Now, remember, we’re viewing society. Society here. Paul is not describing the individual journey of a person. I’m not even dealing with it on that level, except in a moment as I close. But the fact of the matter: he’s talking about the development of what happens within a culture, within a nation, within a people—and here it is—and the dreadful consequences, causing us to wake up in the morning and to say, “Well, what about my children?” or “What about my grandchildren?” Because what comes after, you know, “sympathize, normalize, demonize”? How are they going to go? And how in the world did we get here?

Nineteen seventy-two was a good year. I was twenty. I don’t know what age you were. East Lansing, Ann Arbor—Michigan, incidentally. (Michigan. Don’t worry. It’s only Ohio State people in here, so…) East Lansing, Ann Arbor, and San Francisco were the first cities to pass a homosexual rights ordinance: ’72. Sweden decided, “We’ll be very happy to provide on our health system sex change operations with free hormone therapy.” At the University of Buffalo, for the first time in a curriculum noted anywhere in North America, it was an opportunity to take a course called Lesbianism 101. In the same year, in San Francisco, the Twin Peaks Tavern, the first gay bar in San Francisco, decided that it would remove its blacked-out windows. Up until that point, it was all blacked out. Why blacked out? Because men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil.[16] Now they said, “Listen, they’ve sympathized with us; let’s normalize it. Let’s take the blinds off. Let’s just be bold about this. Let’s let it be seen.”

We do not need a church that will move with the world. We don’t need a church that’s just going to accommodate itself to every passing fancy. We need a church that will move the world.

In Britain, 1988, the United Kingdom Parliament passes a law banning schools from teaching “the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.” Section 28 outlawed positive depictions of same-sex relationships in classrooms. “You’re not going to do this to our children,” they said—1988. Two thousand: repealed. Huge backlash, partly because of the number of people within British Parliament who themselves are homosexuals. The same is true in each of the parties here in North America. You will be fascinated to see the coming together not on the basis of political affiliation but on the basis of sexual commitments. Watch for it. Two thousand and five: gay and lesbian couples were allowed to adopt in England and Wales. Two thousand and thirteen: same-sex marriage was legalized. So in a quarter of a century, we had an immoral revolution.

At the same time, in 1968, in the American Psychiatric Association, homosexuality was a mental disorder. Nineteen sixty-eight! Nineteen seventy-three, the American Psychiatric Association had a meeting posing the question “Is homosexuality a mental disorder?”; 5,854 of those who responded said, “No, it isn’t,” but fascinatingly, 3,810 said, “Yes, it is.” And you can still meet scientists who, if they’re brave enough, will tell you straight up. By 1992, the World Health Organization had removed the stigma entirely.

And here we are. We do not need a church that will move with the world. We don’t need a church that’s just going to accommodate itself to every passing fancy. We need a church—I’m using Church, big C—in the United States, in the Western world, that will move the world. That will move the world. Now, you say, “Well, what do you mean, ‘move the world’?” Well, we move the world the way the apostles moved the world: by proclaiming verse 16—that “Here is a wonderful story that I’m not ashamed of: that God, who made you and who loves you, despite how screwed up you are, that this God has made available to you the transforming reality of a new life in the gospel, and it’s there for everyone who will believe. You need to know, however, that his wrath has been revealed, and you can’t produce a righteousness of your own. But don’t forget, that’s why he produced the righteousness: so that you might know and enjoy that.” That’s what we have to be prepared to say.

We have at the same time got to be prepared to say this: that we are not free to tamper with the Bible. If you simply choose the parts of the Bible you like and reject the parts that you don’t like, then you don’t believe the Bible; you believe yourself. That’s what you believe. You don’t believe the Bible. Why would I ever come here and do verses 26 and 27 unless I absolutely believed that the Bible is God’s Word, that it is unerring, and it speaks truth, even on a Sunday morning like this in two thousand and twenty-whatever-it-is? We’re not at liberty to rewrite the Bible to accommodate godless perspectives on abortion, on euthanasia, on same-sex marriage, on transgenderism, and more. We’re not.

So here’s the challenge: How do you do this? How do you honor God, obey his Word, and treat your neighbors and your friends and your family members who have decided to go on this path? Some people have decided the way to handle it is by admonition—so you just simply stand up and keeping telling them, “This is terrible,” “This is terrible,” “This is terrible.” Some people have decided—well, they don’t say anything at all: “Just let it go. Who cares, you know? It’s a big world. People do different things.” Neither is a possibility for a Bible-believing Christian.

We are to treat with honor those who view us with hatred.

What happens to homosexual people, in my experience, is that they are either reviled or they are affirmed. The Christian has to say, “We will not treat you in either of those ways. We cannot revile you, but we cannot affirm you. And the reason that we can’t revile you is the same reason why we can’t affirm you: because of the Bible, because of God’s love, because of his grace, because of his goodness.”

“This is instruction for mankind,”[17] David said back in 2 Samuel 7—which I’m sure you all remember. In other words, this is not just a little thing for tucking into a corner up a side street in Bainbridge. No! It’s far bigger than that. This is a struggle. The struggle is actually about the authority of the Bible—about whether God actually said what he said, and whether he meant what he said when he said it, and whether his promises are trustworthy, and whether his warnings ought to be taken. That’s what it’s about. But symptomatically, it’s expressed in this way. It’s not an argument now about science. It’s not an argument about the resurrection. It’s an argument about gender. It’s an argument about sexuality. This is where the battle is being fought.

Therefore, it’s a two-handed battle. On the one hand, the proclamation of the good news of the gospel: “Everyone, Jesus says come. Jesus will make you absolutely brand-new.” The proclamation of the gospel with the right hand and the refutation, the refuting, of false, bad ideas on the other hand, in the awareness that Jesus said, “You know, if the world hates you, don’t worry. It hated me first.”[18] We are to treat with honor those who view us with hatred.

This is the challenge, where we go back out into the community, to our families, to our homes: to be able to say to people, “You know, if you come to our church—just because it’s the only place we’ve got right now as a church—if you come here, you will find there’s some really—some peculiar people here. There’s people here. They were completely banned from the kingdom. They were all banned from the kingdom. They couldn’t get in the kingdom. Because the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom.” “Do[n’t] be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy”—interesting!—“nor drunk[s], nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”[19] We’re busted. I mean, even if you only just… You say you don’t want to go under one of the bad headings? Well, just come with me under “greedy,” then, for now. That’ll be enough.

What’s the answer? In the next verse: “Such were some of you.” “But you cleaned yourselves up.” No. “But you became religious.” No. “But you decided to stop.” No. “But you were washed.” Washed in what? Washed in the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. He was given up on our behalf so that we might enjoy all the beauty and goodness that is found in him. “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”[20]

So in other words, the hope for the greedy, the immoral, the whole rotten lot of us is the same hope. The answer is the same answer: only at the cross of Jesus Christ. That’s why Paul begins with that in verse 16, before he starts on the wrath of God in verse 18. And I want you to know that I’m not ashamed either. I don’t find it easy to address the wrath of God, but I’m glad to address it knowing that it is preceded by and followed by the amazing news of the grace of God. It’s fantastic.

Are you going to go home and worship your own little god again, whatever it is? Or perhaps today, in prospect of the coming of Jesus, you just bow down, and you say, “I’m giving up on these gods. None of them have worked for me—not a single one of them.” There’s no answer to death in whatever god you create. No. There’s no answer. Only in Jesus.

Okay, I’m done. We’ll sing a song.

We’ll just have a brief prayer:

Lord, please help us with this stuff, both in understanding it, believing it, taking it to heart, sharing it, living in the light of it. But thank you that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin.[21] All sin. All of our selfish, idolatrous preoccupations, we lay them down—all our passion, all our pride, all the ugly stuff that comes along with it. O God, accomplish your purpose in us and through us, we pray, for Christ’s sake. Amen.

[1] Roger Hodgson, “The Logical Song” (1979). Lyrics lightly altered.

[2] Romans 1:21–22 (paraphrased).

[3] Romans 1:24–25 (ESV).

[4] See Romans 1:23.

[5] William Barclay, The Letter to the Romans, The Daily Study Bible (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1957), 25.

[6] Genesis 1:27 (ESV).

[7] Charles Hodge, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, rev. ed. (Philadelphia: William S. and Alfred Martien, 1864), 63.

[8] Plato, Laws, bk. 1.

[9] Ephesians 5:12 (ESV).

[10] Christopher Ash, Remaking a Broken World: The Heart of the Bible Story (The Good Book Company, 2019), 48.

[11] Amanda Platell, “Is Being Sex Positive Making Young Women Miserable?,” Daily Mail, November 11, 2022, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-11441639/Amanda-platell-sex-positive-making-young-women-miserable.html, quoted in Melanie Phillips, “The Damaging Sexual Degradation of the Young,” November 20, 2022, https://melaniephillips.substack.com/p/the-damaging-sexual-degradation-of.

[12] Phillips.

[13] Arnold Toynbee, quoted in Ash, Remaking, 48.

[14] John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans (Glenside, PA: Westminster Seminary Press, 2022), 62.

[15] William G. T. Shedd, A Critical and Doctrinal Commentary upon the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1879), 29.

[16] See John 3:19.

[17] 2 Samuel 7:19 (ESV).

[18] John 15:18 (paraphrased).

[19] 1 Corinthians 6:9–10 (ESV)

[20] 1 Corinthians 6:11 (ESV).

[21] See 1 John 1:7.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.