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Abandoned to a Depraved Mind - Part 1

Tom Pennington • Romans 1:28-32

  • 2015-02-08 AM
  • Romans
  • Sermons


In 2010, Greg Epstein, a humanist chaplain at Harvard University, let me say that again, because it seems like an oxymoron, a humanist chaplain at Harvard University, wrote a book entitled Good Without God. It was a New York Times bestseller. On the website, on his website, this is how the book is summarized, "in Good Without God, Greg Epstein presents a more balanced and inclusive response," that is, to religion, than some of the new angry atheists, and his response is Humanism. "With a focus on the positive, he highlights humanity's potential for goodness and the ways in which Humanists live lives of purpose and compassion. Humanism," it goes on to say, "can offer the sense of community we want and often need in good times and bad, as we celebrate marriages and the birth of our children, and as we care for those who are elderly or sick." In other words, we can get together as a community of Humanists and have the same benefits as those who are connected to the church. It goes on to say, "In short, Humanism teaches us," listen to this, "that we can lead good and moral lives without supernaturalism, without higher powers, without God."

Is that true? The apostle Paul, in Romans 1, says that is absolutely impossible. It is impossible to be good without the true God. It's even impossible to be good if you're attached to some other God, much less irreligious. It is impossible to be good without God unless you redefine what good is. Only by redefining the standard can you actually be good and that's exactly what our society is doing, it is redefining good, and therefore they can measure up and be good without God.

There are many examples in our culture. Let me just give you one recent example. Last year, when NFL recruit Michael Sam revealed that he was homosexual and when he kissed his partner after being drafted, there was almost a unanimous universal response of the culture. He was called brave. What he did was called good, again and again and again. He was compared, for this coming out, as being one of the greatest people in American history. He was compared to some of the great names that you studied in your history classes. Brave. Great. Good. Instead, God says that his homosexuality should be a source of shame to him because it is contrary to the obvious creative design of God.

Sadly, there are many other examples, in different categories of sin, of this kind of a redefinition of what is bad and evil into good, but reclassifying sin and evil as good and admirable is not evidence of human progress. In fact, according to Romans 1, it is evidence of the wrath of divine abandonment.

Now, in Romans 1 Paul introduces the theme of this letter, he does so in verse 1 as he introduces himself, the gospel of God. I'm going to tell you, he says, about the gospel I preach. In verses 16 and 17 of the first chapter he summarizes that gospel message in two verses. Beginning in chapter 3 verse 21, for a couple of chapters, he will explain that gospel, the heart of that gospel, which is justification by faith alone. But he begins not with the good news, he begins with the bad news, with a couple of lengthy indictments and he does so in order to show that every human being, every person, you and I, we all need the gospel that he preached.

Now, his first indictment comes against a group that we can call unbelieving pagans, begins in verse 18 of chapter 1, runs down through verse 32, the end of the chapter. This section indicts all of those who have rejected the true God of the Bible and refused to worship Him, and of this group, notice in verse 18, Paul says that, "the wrath of God," literally, "is being revealed." Now, the rest of this chapter then, answers two questions about that wrath being revealed against pagans.

First of all, why is God's wrath being revealed? Paul gives us two answers in verses 18 to 23. The first answer is, because of the pagan's willful rebellion against God's Law. Notice verse 18, "For the wrath of God is being revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men." Those two words encapsulate the failure to love and respect God, and the failure to obey His Law in reference to our fellow human beings. Man willfully rebels against God's Law that's written on his heart, according to chapter 2, and in some cases that he has in a book, as we do in the Scripture.

The second reason God's wrath is being revealed, we're introduced to in the second half of verse 18. There are men and pagans, who, and all of them do, "suppress the truth in unrighteousness," and he goes on to explain what he means. They hold down the truth about God that's revealed in creation. They suppress that knowledge. Verse 21 says, "they knew God," that is, they knew certain things about God, verse 20, "His invisible attributes," such as "His eternal power," His existence, His "divine nature," but they suppress that. They are willfully ignorant of God's person. That's why God is angry.

Now the second half of this chapter, beginning in verse 24, running down through verse 32, answers a second question, and that is, how is God's wrath being revealed? We know now why God is angry, why He must punish pagans, but how exactly is He doing that? Now, first we looked generally, before we looked at the text itself, at understanding God's wrath in a general sense. We learned that God is always opposed to evil in all of its kinds and in all of its degrees. He is displeased with the persons who commit it and He is compelled by His own holy, righteous character to punish it wherever He finds it.

That is God's wrath and we learned that the specific kind of wrath that Paul has in mind here in Romans 1 is not eschatological wrath. It's not the wrath that comes at the end. It's not the wrath that comes with the tribulation and the outpouring of judgments upon the earth. It's not the wrath that comes in the return of Christ, when He destroys His enemies. It's not the wrath of the final judgment at the great white throne. It's not the wrath of eternal hell and the lake of fire. Instead, in Romans 1, it is the wrath of divine abandonment.

So then, we turn to the text itself, trying to understand God's wrath of abandonment. This is what is expressed beginning in verse 24. You follow along as I read.

Therefore, [in light of their willful rebellion and willful ignorance,] God gave them over in the lust of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.

And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but they also give hearty approval to those who practice them.

Three times in that paragraph we just read, Paul says, "God gave them over." "God gave them over." "God gave them over." Those three statements highlight the specific ways that God's wrath of abandonment is being revealed against pagans.

First of all, the pagan is abandoned to sexual sin. We saw this a couple of weeks ago. He is abandoned to sexual sin in verses 24 and 25. By the way, let me just say that there is an illustration of how God has abandoned and is abandoning our culture to sexual sin. There is an illustration of that coming in just a few days. Incredibly to me, a movie celebrating the sexual perversions of domination, bondage, and sadomasochism will be released on Valentine's Day in America, and amazing to me, there are even some Christians who are saying, what's the big deal? I mean, what Christians want to do in their own privacy is their business. Let me tell you that those sins that are glorified in that movie are included in the New Testament words describing sexual sins.

In addition, those perversions could not be farther from the selfless and tender love that Christ shows His bride, which is supposed to be modeled in marriage, and you'll find nothing like those things in God's celebration of married love in the Song of Solomon. Instead, mark my words, what is being accepted and glorified in that movie, its acceptance is evidence of the wrath of divine abandonment. The acceptance of that sexual sin in our culture is evidence of God's abandoning individuals and the culture as a whole, into its paganism, and it'll only get worse the more pagan our culture becomes.

Secondly, God abandoned pagans to "degrading passions," verses 26 and 27. As we saw last week, what Paul means by "degrading passions", is homosexuality. Homosexuality is often an expression of God's wrath against paganism. Notice verse 26, "For this reason," that points back to verse 25 and idolatry, because they gave themselves to idolatry, "For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions." And again, mark what Paul is saying here, the more pagan a person or a culture becomes, the more disconnected from the true God, the more tolerant that person or that culture will become of homosexuality. Why? Because God abandons them to it.

Now, today we discover a third way that the pagan experiences God's wrath of abandonment, he is abandoned to a "depraved mind." A "depraved mind." We see this in verses 28 to 32. Now, as Paul begins to explain what he means here, he starts out with the reason for, or the reason behind, a "depraved mind." Verse 28 begins, "And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer." The expression "just as," the Greek word that's translated "just as," in this context refers to reason or cause. We could say "since they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over." Once again, we see that God's judgment is not capricious. The punishment perfectly fits the crime. They abandon God, so God abandons them.

Now, the clause that is translated in our text "they did not see fit to acknowledge God," that sounds pretty bad in English, but it sounds much worse in Greek. Let me read it to you literally. This is what it says, "They did not approve of God to have in their knowledge," or, "to have in knowledge." "They did not approve of God to have Him in their knowledge." They didn't think it was worthwhile to retain in their knowledge what they had learned about the true God from creation. Now, this does not mean that every single pagan arrives at some crisis moment in his life when he looks at the evidence and he consciously decides to shut the true God out of his mind. It may be nothing more than he simply never recognizes the true God, he looks over the evidence intentionally, he overlooks the evidence because he wants to embrace false gods instead.

By the way, why do people find themselves attracted to idolatry? What is the appeal of idolatry? Several years ago, I guess many years ago now, when I was here, I preached a series of messages on idolatry. Let me tell you the appeals of idolatry. It was true in Old Testament times, it's still true today. Pride is one of the appeals. It gives you a chance to participate in your own salvation. They're all works-based. A second appeal is sex. Read the Old Testament. A lot of the appeal of idol worship was that you could indulge yourself in sexual sin and seem spiritual.

A third appeal was financial success. Take Baal, for example, Baal was the storm God. If you live in an agricultural society where wealth is tied to your crops, you want to be in good touch with the God who is responsible for rain. It was driven by financial success. Idolatry was popular for that reason and sometimes idolatry was popular because it gave you a chance to express the baser side of human brutality in the name of your religion, and aren't we seeing that lived out on the front pages of our paper. This is the appeal of idolatry.

Now, Paul had already made the same indictment two other times in this passage, notice verse 24, God gave them over to sexual sin. Why? Verse 25, "For," because of their idolatry. The second time, in verse 26, he's just mentioned idolatry in verse 25 and he says, "For this reason," because of their idolatry, "God gave them over to homosexuality." And now again in verse 28 Paul identifies again the reason that God gives the sinner over, in this case to a "depraved mind." It's the same reason, it's his idolatry. He willingly rejects the knowledge of the true God. This is the reason, paganism, a departure from the true God.

Now secondly, Paul describes for us here the punishment of a depraved mind. Notice verse 28, "And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer." There's the reason. Here's the punishment, "God gave them over to a depraved mind." For a third time, Paul uses this sort of haunting, chilling expression, "God abandoned them."

Now, there is a wordplay in verse 28 that's in the original language, that not all of our English translations capture, including the New American Standard. Some of them do, but the New American Standard does not. So let me read it for you in such a way that you get the word play. Here's how we could translate it. Paul says that "they did not approve of God, so God gave them over to a mind that He does not approve of." That's the play on words.

He uses that same word approve in two different ways. They didn't approve of God, so God gave them over, He abandoned them to a mind, a way of thinking, that He doesn't approve of. It's the word depraved. The adjective depraved is this word unapproved. It refers to something that doesn't pass the test, that's unqualified, that's worthless, that's base. In the first century this word was used of coins that didn't meet the minimum standard to make it into circulation.

So God gives the sinner over to an unapproved mind. What does that mean? Douglas Moo puts it this way, he says, "People who have turned from God are fundamentally unable to think and decide correctly about God and His will. Only the work of the Spirit in renewing the mind can overcome this deep-seated blindness and perversity." You see, because they refuse to embrace the knowledge of the true God revealed in creation, God gives them over, listen carefully, God gives them over to a state in which their minds completely lose the ability to make the correct moral choices and judgments, a depraved mind, that's the punishment.

Now thirdly, Paul explains the consequences of a depraved mind, the consequences, and he begins by giving us a summary of the consequences. Look at verse 28, "God gave them over to a depraved mind," and the consequence of that is they "do those things which are not proper." You see, when a person can't understand and approve God's revealed will, the result is that he begins to do what Paul calls here, he begins to "do those things which are not proper." Now that was a technical expression among the Greeks to describe actions that were morally wrong. Their minds become darkened and so they begin to do the very things that are morally wrong, the things which are "not proper."

Now don't misunderstand here, it's not that every pagan loses all knowledge of right and wrong. That's absolutely not true. In fact, look down at verse 32, "they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death," and yet they continue to "practice them." So it's not that they lose all sense of right and wrong, it's that they choose, over their sense of right and wrong, to do it anyway. That's the depraved mind, because God has abandoned them to this depraved mind. As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, as one theologian put it, "Sin," that is, more sin, "is the penalty for sin." Or, as another theologian expresses it, "The worst penalty for sin is to love sin."

So having given us then this summary of the consequences of a depraved mind, they begin "to do those things which are not proper," Paul proceeds to illustrate it for us and he gives us 21 examples of what he means by, "things that are not proper." Let me read it for you, verse 29 to 31,

being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful.

Now, I need to make a couple of preliminary observations about that list. First of all, understand that Paul does not intend that list to be comprehensive. There are 15 vice lists like this in the New Testament. Although this is the longest, there are 15 of them. When I was in seminary my professor had me collect all the different descriptions of sins from those 15 lists, reconcile them, cull out the duplicates, and then define them all. Okay, these are simply representative of the kinds of sins that pagans commit and that God abandons them to; it's not a comprehensive list.

Second observation. Some of these words are very close, very similar in meaning and so it is difficult at times to absolutely, accurately distinguish between them. But since Paul chose to use them all together in one list, I'm going to do my best to give you nuances of difference between them.

Third observation. Paul's primary focus in this vice list is the non-sexual sins that destroy relationships, the non-sexual sins that destroy relationships. Why? Well, because Paul has already addressed the pervasive and destructive sexual sin that comes with divine abandonment in the previous verses, but here he addresses those sins that create discord and disharmony between people. As one author put it, "These are antisocial practices which together describe the breakdown of human community."

Now, Paul's structure here is simple and it's the structure we're going to follow. It's the inspired structure, can't improve on that. So, the first part of this list is the participle "being filled" followed by four nouns. Look at verse 29, "being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil." Now, what unites those words? They are all general words for evil, there's not a specific word among them, they're general words, and notice he introduces it with the participle "being filled." Being filled with this makes it clear that pagans don't pursue sin halfheartedly. It's not that these are rare. Instead, these sins permeate their hearts and lives. As I mentioned, the exact distinction between these sins is difficult, but let's see if we can discern the nuance of difference.

First of all, unrighteousness, we met this word back in verse 18, "the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness of men." This word simply means, a lack of conformity to the Law of God. In our thoughts, in our words, in our actions, we don't conform to God's Law. Wickedness. Wickedness is the state or condition of lacking moral values. Greed, we understand that word, it's a settled disposition that is driven to have more. It's the reckless selfishness that pursues one's own desires regardless of how it will affect others. And regardless of what he has, the greedy person is never satisfied; he must have still more. The last word in this group is the word evil and the word evil simply means mean-spirited. It refers to an internal vicious disposition that actually finds pleasure in hurting others, mean-spirited. Paul says unbelieving pagans are filled with these general expressions of evil.

Now, that brings us to the second part of Paul's structure here in his list. He gives us the word "full of" followed by five nouns. Let's look at that together, verse 29, "full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice." What unites those words? These words describe envy and its consequences. So this is really about the sin of envy and how it expresses itself. Notice again, "full of," that means these sins permeate the pagan's heart and life.

What is envy? Envy is the displeasure, or even the anger, that comes from seeing someone else have what you want, or at least, having someone else have what you don't want them to have. If you can have it you don't want them to have it. That's envy. And here we're reminded of the fact that sinners have a hard time getting along with one another.

Leon Morris writes this, "Evil doers are not just one happy band of brothers." If you work in a secular workplace, if you go to a secular school, if you're thrown with unbelievers, you understand this. They're not just one happy band of brothers. There is a divisiveness about evil which sets people apart from one another, and I might add, against one another. Envy. You've seen this right? I mean, somebody walks up and congratulates someone at the office for a promotion, the one who was congratulated leaves, and the person suddenly turns and says, you know, there were a dozen people in this office who should have gotten that promotion other than him, me being one of them. Envy, it creates divisiveness in relationships.

Now, the second word in this group is murder. It's a little bit of a surprise. Murder, as you know, is taking the life of another. Just to summarize, Scripture allows the taking of a life in just war, in self-defense, and in capital punishment, although those are different sermons for different times, but all other taking of life is called murder and is sin against God. It is the destruction of the image of God in another person.

Now notice, this sin of murder is connected here with envy. Why? They don't seem to connect. They connect amazingly well, because murder is often the direct result of envy. Go back to the very first murder. Why did Cain murder his brother Abel? Because he was envious of the response his sacrifice got from God. What about Joseph's brothers? They didn't kill him, but they talked about it. They had murderous thoughts and what was driving it? They were envious of him because he was the favored son. You come to the New Testament, John tells us that the very reason the religious leaders of Israel delivered Jesus over the Roman authorities, and Pilot knew it, was because of envy. Envy often lies behind murder. Many times when you pick up your paper and you read about a murder somewhere in the city of Dallas, understand, often it is driven by the sin of envy.

The third word in this group is strife. This refers to arguments and conflicts, arguments and conflicts that spring from an argumentative, contentious spirit. There are people and there are homes that are constantly filled with arguments and fighting and conflict. Paul says strife is something God abandons the pagan to. Deceit. This is a very interesting word in its background. The word comes from the word for bait in fishing. It came to mean any means that you use to catch or deceive someone just as you deceive the fish into biting the hook. Ultimately then, it was used to refer to the deceit used to mislead someone for your own advantage. One leading lexicon defines it as taking advantage of others through underhanded methods. Oh my goodness is our world filled with this. Sinners are quick to lie and to deceive for their own advantage. Malice. Malice refers to a basic character defect that leads someone to be hurtful to others. It is hating and despising others so that you intentionally sin against them in order to spite them, in order to hurt them.

Now, just look at those nine sins we've already looked at. Those sins ravage and destroy relationships.

Now, that brings us to the third part of Paul's vice list here and it's simply a list of twelve sins. Now, although it is primarily a laundry list of sins, there are some discernible clues here of structure and let me see if I can lead you through it. Paul begins this list of twelve sins with two sins of speech in which people try to destroy the reputation of others. Notice in verse 29, gossips. The word is, literally, whisperers. This refers to those who spread rumors. They spread hurtful rumors and information about others, but they do so in private, in low whispers. Did you hear about? They don't really want to get caught in this, they just want to advance their own cause at another person's expense and so they do so in low whispers in private. Slanderers in verse 30, on the other hand, these are those who speak evil of others, not secretly, but openly, in full view. They are more than happy for you to know what they think of you. They slander you at all opportunity and you know it's happening. The point in these two words is, whether secretly or openly, unbelievers are compelled by their selfish nature to speak against others.

Now, next in this list of twelve sins Paul moves from sins of speech to six sins related to pride. Notice the first, "haters of God." This is the most egregious expression of pride. It is to openly and willingly and defiantly reject your Creator, who has made Himself known everywhere in His creation. It is to use and abuse His goodness that you enjoy daily in your life, in His providence. Nothing is a greater demonstration of human pride than to know you have a Creator, know that every good thing you enjoy is from His hand, and to turn in hatred and vitriol against Him. Now, that really speaks of the vertical expression of pride. The next few words speak of the horizontal expression of pride.

Insolent. This word focuses on the actions of pride. This is a person who doesn't simply feel pride inside. This is a person who acts out his pride by treating everyone else as beneath him. You know people like this, right? They just, they're the king, and you're the slave, you're the peon simply there to, sort of, advance their cause. Hendrickson writes, "They treat others," the insolent person, "treats others with contempt, as if they and they alone amounted to anything, and all others amounted to nothing." That's insolent.

Arrogant focuses on the thoughts of superiority. The arrogant person may come across as the most humble person in the world. They may never act it out, but in their mind the arrogant person truly believes that no one is his equal. He looks around and surveys the landscape and says, the rest of these people are stupid. I'm smart, I know what's going on, I wish they'd just get out of my way and let me do what I need to do. He has contempt for everyone except himself. Arrogance is the antithesis of humility, but its stays, or can stay, inside, in the heart. Again, there are people who come across as the most timid, shy, humble people and they are filled with this arrogance.

Boastful focuses on the words of the proud person; this too has an interesting background. Originally this word described those who travelled from town to town, selling their potions and their snake oil and making these extravagant, unverifiable claims. Eventually, therefore, the word came to speak of claiming to have done things that you never did. Just this week, of course, one of the major news anchors got caught in just such a sin. But this word can also refer to those who constantly brag about their genuine accomplishments.

So then, a boastful person is one who tries to impress others in one of two ways, either by constantly rehearsing his real accomplishments, and you've been around people like that, you've been there a few moments and you know who they know that's important and what they've done that's important and why they're important. And secondly, they try to impress others by making big claims about things that they have, in fact, never done. Boastful.

Inventors of evil, this is another expression of pride. Here are people who aren't content with the status quo expressions of evil. They've got to go beyond. As one commentator puts it, "This refers to those who discover and invent evermore hateful methods of hurting and destroying their fellow man." I thought of this word the other day, maybe you saw the news article about the angry husband who rented a bulldozer and while his wife was at work, he bulldozed her home to the foundation, with all of her belongings in it. That's creative. I mean, I never would've thought of that. Inventors of evil, not content with the ordinary expressions of evil. I need to come up with a fresh way to make my feelings known.

Disobedient to parents, now what's interesting about this is this too is an expression of pride. Parents, listen closely, in 1 Timothy 3 Paul links disobedience to parents with pride. When a child is disrespectful or disobedient to his parents, what is happening in that moment is that that child has concluded that he is superior to his parents. Ultimately, the sin behind disrespect and disobedience is pride. He is better, he knows better, he is more deserving of respect at that moment than his parents are. That's disobedience. That's why, parents, it's so important that you and I teach our children to respect and obey us. Not only is it commanded of us and of them, but it's important because if they get into the habit of allowing their own mind, in pride, to sit over their authorities, then ultimately they'll do that toward God Himself, the ultimate authority.

Now, the final four words in this list of twelve sins share only one thing in common and that is, each as a positive virtue negated by adding the Greek letter alpha, a, as a prefix. In linguistic terms it's called an alpha primitive, you add an a to the beginning of the word, it negates it's meaning. We have this in English, right? Let me give you an English example. Take the word theist. What does theist mean? It means one who believes in God. But if we add an alpha, if we add an a to the beginning of theist, we now have that word canceled. It's not one who believes in God, it's one who does not believe in God, an atheist.

The four words in verse 31 are constructed exactly like that in the Greek text. They are positive virtues with an a added that negates the meaning. To try to capture that flavor some translations have tried to kind of be tricky. It's hard to do that from Greek to English, but, for example, the NIV translates verse 31 as "senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless," to sort of capture the flavor that they're all constructed the same. What do these words mean? "Without understanding," verse 31. This describes the person who lacks all moral discernment. He has no moral sense; he has no clear moral compass. He is willing, over what he knows from his own heart, he is willing to call good evil and evil good. He is without understanding. He is morally stupid.

The second word, untrustworthy, this word is literally covenant breaking. It describes those who don't keep their word, their promises, their agreements, their covenants. People who are guilty of this sin are perfectly comfortable breaking their ordinary, everyday promises, their marriage vows, their business contracts, and even treaties made between countries. They are untrustworthy.

Notice verse 31, the word unloving, the third word in this group. The root of the word unloving is the Greek word storgay, which is a different kind of Greek love. It describes the natural love between members of a family. It's natural affection. Some translations even express it that way, they are without natural affections. So the one who is unloving in this sense lacks the affection that is normal and natural among a family.

In the Roman world of the first century, it was this sin that was behind infanticide. You know, it always amazes me when I read some of the Roman writers, like Seneca, who was a contemporary of the apostle Paul; he simply assumed that his well-educated readers would drown their weak or deformed babies. It's unloving, it's without natural affection. Of course, there are many demonstrations of this sin in our culture. The most tragic, the most pervasive, is abortion. This failure to love even one's own family shows just how pervasive and how deep man's sin goes.

And then the final word, the 21st word of the examples Paul has given us, is unmerciful. Unmerciful means the lack of all pity and compassion. We could translate it ruthless. The atrocities of the Nazis, and, of course, in our own day, of ISIS, have shown us how unthinkably far this sin can go. Even hardened unbelievers watch this kind of ruthlessness and are stunned and shocked. But here's an interesting thing, this sin has another side, not merely atrocities, but this same sin can express itself as apathy. As when, in the story of the Good Samaritan, the priest and the Levite passed by on the other side of the road. A modern example of unmerciful is when a crime is committed in the middle of a crowd of people and no one intervenes. You see, the violent perpetrator of the crime is ruthless and unmerciful, and the people who refuse to get involved to help the victim are equally unmerciful. When it comes to sins against other human beings, it's hard to find a worse one than this one, because, frankly, even people who hate other people will, when they see that person in extreme misery, sometimes feel compassion for them, but this is unmerciful.

Now, look at that list of 21 sins. That is merely a sample of the relationally destructive sins that result from a depraved mind, and the depraved mind to which God has abandoned the unbelieving pagan. Look at that list and realize it's going to get worse. Relationships are going to get worse, because as our country continues to slip into paganism, God is going to continue to abandon people to these sins that are destructive of all relationships.

Now what do we do with this? As I've asked each time, how do we apply this text? Very briefly, let me give you some application points. They're not going to be on the screen, you can just jot them down. First of all, notice it is unbelievers who are filled with these kinds of sins. This is a warning. In our Christian-ized North Texas culture, don't you for a moment hold on to some childhood decision that you prayed a prayer when you were four and you were baptized later and you signed a card, you walked an aisle, you belonged to the church. Don't you dare hold on to that if since that profession of faith in Christ you have lived consistently in these sins, or these kinds of sins. You are not a Christian.

Turn to another of the vice lists, Galatians 5. Galatians 5, Paul makes this very clear, verse 19,

Now the deeds, [the acts of the fallen human nature,] are evident. [Three sexual sin words,] immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, [that's the word pharmakeia from which we get the word pharmacy, it was enjoying hallucinogenic drugs to get in touch with the gods,] enmities, strife, [you recognize some of these words,] jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, [so the things like we saw in Romans 1,] of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, [Paul says, listen, I told you before, I'm telling you again,] that those who practice such things, [as a habit of life,] will not inherit the kingdom of God.

They're not believers. If you consistently practice these kinds of sins in an unrepentant, unwavering way, if this is your life, it doesn't matter that you prayed a prayer when you were five. You're not a believer. You will not inherit the kingdom of God. Your only hope is to turn from your sin to truly follow Jesus Christ.

Second application point, as believers, as true believers, we must not allow these sins to reign in us. Later in Romans 6 Paul says this very thing, verse 12,

do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin

Stop it! If these sins are in your life, as we went through this list you see these things, ask God for grace and begin to put to death these sins in your life. As John Owen said, "Either be putting sin to death or it will be killing you." You be killing sin or it will be killing you.

Number three, the fact that we have all been guilty of these sins in the past and still struggle with some of them today is the reason we all need the gospel. That's Paul's main point here. He's rehearsing sins and saying, folks, this is why pagans need the gospel. Verse 32 in Romans 1, "those who commit these things are worthy of death." Verse 18 of Romans 1, "the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven" against those who practice these things.

If you're not a Christian, if you were honest with yourself as I went through that list of sins, you saw yourself in several of them, understand you're not the only one who sees you, God sees you and you will, according to chapter 2, we're going to get there in Romans, you will stand before God in judgment and He is completely impartial. He doesn't grade on a curve. He's a God of strict justice, unless you run to Him before for grace. Your only hope is in the gospel.

You see, Jesus never committed any of these sins in Romans 1, not once. He lived a perfect life that if you will believe in Jesus, that perfect life, God will treat you as if you had lived it and He will take your sins described in this chapter and He will credit them to Christ, and He will assume that they have been fully and completely dealt with in the death of Christ. Christ will have died to pay the penalty for your sins. That's your only hope. Don't you dare think about leaving this life and standing before God your Creator without having run to Christ, because He is completely impartial in His justice. You're not going to get a break.

Now, if you're already a Christian don't forget that every one of us has been guilty of these sins many times. You say, well, wait a minute, not murder. I was able to skip that one. What did Jesus say in the Sermon on the Mount? If you've ever, once in your life, been angry enough with someone to lash out with angry words, you have been guilty enough to go to hell, to be convicted of the sin of murder in your heart. So we've committed all these sins. So even if you weren't a pagan before Christ, even if you were a fairly good religious person, you were filled with these sins and like me, you were on your way to judgment. If God hadn't intervened you would have no hope.

These verses should drive us to our knees in gratitude because Christ suffered for these sins we've committed and we can know God and be forgiven and be with Him eternally. This passage should drive us to our knees in gratitude for the gospel and for the grace of God shown to us in Christ. "Such were some of you."

Let's pray together. Father, thank You for how helpful this passage is in understanding what's going on around us and what's going on within us. Father, I pray that You would help us who are in Christ, first and foremost, to praise You, to exalt You, for Your grace in the gospel. Lord, this chapter describes us before You found us. Thank You, O God, for Christ. Thank You for the good news of the Gospel. Thank You for the forgiveness that's found in Him.

Father, help us as well, to take our ongoing struggle with sin seriously. Clearly, from this passage You hate these sins. You even, as an expression of Your anger, abandoned pagans to more of these sins.

Father, may we be cutting sin out of our lives.

And Lord, I pray for those here who are not in Christ, help them to see the reality. Lord, perhaps some who are falsely depending on some profession made in the past, but whose lives don't speak of a true commitment to follow Jesus as Lord. Lord, may this be the day when what was an empty profession becomes reality and they turn from their sin to follow Jesus Christ. And may they find in You the amazing grace that so many of us have found. We bless You, O God, in Jesus's name. Amen.