Grace For The Journey
Where do evil people come from? That is a theological question that actually has many societal ramifications. How we respond to those who do evil will be based on our understanding of the cause of their evil. For example, in our own nation there is a continuing debate on this question, but by and large, secular society operates off a philosophy that believes that people are innately good and that the corrupting influence came upon the individual from without. The ramification then is that people are not really responsible for the crimes they commit. The perpetrator of the crime is also viewed as a victim. In compassion, we desire to help all victims, so have renamed our penal institutions as “correctional facilities” instead of jails.
A jail is a place where you either
Await trial for judgement and
Consequential punishment for evil committed,
Or where such punishment takes place.
Correctional facilities seek
To rehabilitate the criminal.
There is certainly nothing wrong with trying to rehabilitate a criminal. In fact, all of us would agree that as long as justice was also satisfied, then such an effort would be a good thing. However, if you do not understand why the person is bent toward evil, then you cannot rehabilitate them. If you believe evil is caused by poverty and lack of education, as many in our society do, then giving the person material comforts and enabling them to finish high school and even college should result in the person becoming good. Such are some of the efforts in our correctional facilities. However, the efforts have not worked, and reincarcerations remains high. The FBI statistic is that 74% of all of those released from prison for all types of crime are back in prison within four years. Why?
Because the cause of the problem is not dealt with.
In effect, current methods make our
Correctional facilities “criminal universities.”
They come out healthy and educated
Without a change in their bent toward evil.
Where then does this bent to evil come from? Why do people generally become worse instead of better? Is there hope? Paul addresses those questions in the book of Romans.
The theme of the book of Romans is the righteousness of God demonstrated in the Gospel. Paul is not ashamed of the Gospel of God because of what it is and what it presents. It is the power of God unto the salvation of everyone who is believing regardless of national or ethnic heritage, and it presents the righteousness of God in both His relationship and actions towards those who are believing (1:17) and those who are not believing (1:18). God is righteous in granting men salvation from their sins and sins’ consequences on the basis of their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. God is also righteous in His wrath against those who are not believing, for in their ungodliness and unrighteousness they suppress the truth in unrighteousness.
Why are people evil?
Because of sin.
Both the inherited sin
Of Adam that results
In being born dead in
Trespasses and sin
And their own actions of sin
That confirm their sinful nature.
God’s judgement of sin will be based on the individuals own sinful deeds (Revelation 20:12). The Bible points out that all sin and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) without exception (Romans 3:10-12).
Is there hope? Yes.
There is hope in God’s grace and mercy
That is extended in Jesus Christ
To those who place their faith in Him.
That is the Good News of the Gospel.
But the Good News cannot be understood unless the bad news is understood first. That is why Paul begins a very thorough discussion of man’s sinfulness starting in Romans 1:18 after his opening remarks in verses 16 & 17.
To be saved . . .
Man must first recognize
That he has a serious and
Eternally fatal sin problem
Which can only be solved
Through faith in Jesus Christ.
If he does not
Turn to Jesus Christ,
Then he will continue
His descent into evil.
Turn again to Romans 1. We will read verses 16-23 to set the context for our study today, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it [the] righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous [man] shall live by faith. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.”
God’s wrath is revealed from heaven by His various decrees issued from Him on His throne resulting in actions taken against all the ungodly and unrighteous. God has in the past and in the present demonstrated His wrath in all sorts of natural phenomena as well as the actions of men and angels. However . . .
Its most common demonstration
Is in the consequences of sin as
God removes His restraining hand
From those who refuse to
Worship Him properly or
Follow the commands He has given.
We begin looking at these consequences in our study today of verses 21-23.
God is righteous in His wrath against the ungodly and unrighteous for they have rejected both Him and His standards for their own, and they have willingly suppressed the truth God has revealed to them. Those who claim God is unjust in His punishment of so called “innocent” people only show their ignorance and risk their own condemnation for judging God. There are no “innocent” people. God has placed enough knowledge of Himself in the heart of every human and made enough of Himself evident in what He has made in the Creation that all excuses are stripped away. We went over some of these evidences from Creation that reveal the power and character of God yesterday.
All men know innately and by the evidence around enough about the power and character of God that they should seek Him. But they do not. Instead, they purposely suppress the truth so that they do not have to seek Him (they are ungodly) or follow His commands (they are unrighteous).
In verses 19 and 20 Paul described
The source of and nature of
The truth they were suppressing.
In verses 21-23 Paul begins
His description of the manner
In which they suppressed the truth.
This is the first step into evil.
He more the truth is suppressed,
Then the greater the evil that will result.
The first phrase of verse 21 re-emphasizes the truth of verse 20. Those who do not believe are without excuse because they are those who knew God. The evidence was within them and all around them, but they ignored it. This was not a passive action (the verb is an active participle). They actively suppress the truth in their refusal to honor God for Who He is or give Him thanks.
This is the first step into evil.
The basis for evil is not found
In how humans treat one another
But in how they treat God.
Evil is that which is opposite of God.
It is that which is in contradiction
To His person and standards.
Man’s evil treatment of other humans
And other things is directly related
To his refusal to honor
God and give Him thanks.
That may seem strange to some, but only because their thoughts are usually so far away from God and the proper relationship to God they should have.
People are innately selfish and view
The world revolving around themselves.
The truth is that we should be viewing
The universe revolving around God and
See ourselves as simply one of His many
Creatures who exists for His purposes.
To “honor” (doxadzo) God is “to glorify Him, magnify Him, and praise Him.” To not honor God is to dishonor Him. But please note that this lack of honor is not total dishonor, but rather a refusal to honor Him for Who He is as the God who has revealed Himself to man as the Creator.
What Paul says here covers every kind of dishonor
Ranging from a simple lack of proper decorum
In approaching God to outright disdain for Him.
Can you sin and honor God at the same time? No, because when you sin, you dishonor God. Sin means to “miss the mark.” Sin is that which does not meet God’s standards. To the degree in which you honor God in every part of your life (which is impossible but should be our desire and goal), you will not sin. Can you give true thanksgiving to God and still sin? No, for thanksgiving requires us to have genuine gratefulness to God for all things, not just the ones that fit our own self-centered desires. We sin because we do not get what we want and seek to gain it in some way other than how God wants us to gain it. The greater our thankfulness, then the greater our honor of God and the less we sin.
Do you want material things? You cannot serve both God and mammon (Matthew 6:24). God’s desire is for you to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and He promises to take care of our material needs (Matthew 6:33). God does not want us seeking after the riches of this world, but wants us to be content even if it is just food and covering (1 Timothy 6:7-10). A person who is truly thankful for what they have is also someone content with what they have.
Do you want a close, personal relationship with someone who truly understands you and accepts you? The only one you can actually have that with is Jesus Christ. In every other relationship you have two sinners who will be opposed to each other at different points and will certainly disappoint each other at times. The only way two people can get along with each other and be thankful is to learn to deal with each other through being reflections of God’s love to one another. You cannot be content with your relationships until you submit yourself to God’s purposes in them and fulfilling the roles He has established for you. A person has learned this lesson when they can thank God even for the people in their lives who are irritating.
Do you want fame? 1 Peter 5:5-6 tells us “. . . and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time.” The godly thank God regardless of how much attention they receive. They leave fame in God’s hands. Their desire is God’s glory and not their own (John 3:30). It is the ungodly that pursue fame, and they do not give thanks.
Do you want power? In the world, power is expressed through authority and lording your position over subordinates. That is not the way it is in God’s kingdom. Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 20:26, “but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant.” The person who honors God is thankful for their position, whatever it may be, for they recognize it is up to God to place them where He wants them, both within the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12) and within the world (Daniel 5:21).
All sin is primarily against God. David recognized this in Psalm 51 when confessing his sins concerning Bathsheba he said in verses 3-4, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, I have sinned, and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified when You speak, and blameless when You judge.” Even a cursory study of 2 Samuel 11 reveals that there were at least 8 different sins he committed in the incident including lying, adultery, and murder, yet in Psalm 51 he recognizes that all the sin was primarily against God.
Lying is either an unwillingness to accept the just outcome of the truth or a lack of trust that God can protect you in the truth. In either case, God is not honored or given thanks. Adultery is primarily a refusal to be content with the situation God has given you so that you seek to satisfy your own physical cravings in a way that dishonors Him. There is never a godly reason to give thanks for adultery.
Murder is a direct assault on the image of God. While most people do not think of that when they commit murder, for they generally see it as a direct assault on someone they want to eliminate from their lives, it is nevertheless true. God commanded capital punishment for murder in Genesis 9:6 saying, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man.”
God deserves our honor and our thanksgiving
For no other reason than Who He
Is as the creator of all things.
The display of His power and attributes
In creation only magnify the need
To honor Him and give Him thanks.
His revelation of Himself
In the Scriptures
Further magnify that need.
Paul points out that God is righteous in His wrath against the ungodly and unrighteous.
They made their first step into the
Downward spiral of evil
By suppressing the truth
He has revealed to them in Creation
Resulting in their refusal to honor
Him properly as God or to give thanks.
The result of this refusal to honor God
Comes immediately in their
Effort to find some substitute.
The human mind is seldom content with unanswered questions, but desires to understand and explain things, if at all possible. Man likes to speculate, but when such speculation is done with the truth already eliminated and shut out from the possibilities, then all speculation becomes foolish conjecture. That is what happens here. Ungodly man suppresses the truth and refuses to honor God for Who He has revealed Himself to be. The result is futile speculation.
The mind that gives itself to vain conjecture will result in a heart that becomes foolish and darkened which in turn leads to sinful actions. This same idea is expressed in other passages. In Ephesians 4:17-19 Paul admonishes the Christians to no longer walk as the Gentiles in the “futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to
sensuality, for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.”
A sinful mind results
In a sinful heart which
Results in sinful actions.
Peter reminded his readers that they were redeemed with the precious blood of Christ from the futile way of life they had inherited from their forefathers (1 Peter. 1:18,19). In 2 Corinthians 10:4 Paul describes the truth of the gospel was his weapon for “destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and [we are] taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.”
Paul will give detailed examples of the increasing foolishness and sinful actions in the remainder of the chapter. In verse 22 he points out their arrogance, “Professing to be wise, they became fools.” The idea of a “fool” here and “foolish heart” in verse 21 is the Biblical concept of a fool described in Psalm 14:1, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” The degree of foolishness is related to the degree that they do not acknowledge God. People do not jump to the utter foolishness of atheism without first going through the steps Paul speaks of here in Romans 1 –
- They first suppress the truth.
- Next, they will not honor God properly.
- Next, in their futile speculation, they find something else to be a substitute God.
Only then will they descend into no longer acknowledging God. Futile speculation
results in a foolish heart and when neither are corrected, they result in a fool. Keep in mind that people are practical atheists, living as if God does not exist or that He does not or will not judge them, before they become professing atheists. Many professing Christians live as if God will not carry out His judgements. They are practical atheists and that is why their lifestyles differ very little from professing atheists.
The amazing thing about fools is how arrogant they can be in their foolishness. They profess, or claim to be wise even though the truth is the opposite. This does not mean they are not intelligent. Many fools are extremely intelligent. In fact, it is their intelligence that often hinders them because they believe themselves to be so smart that if they cannot understand something, it must not be true, and since they cannot understand God by their own reasoning, then He must not be true. This is the basis for the plethora of religions, cults, and philosophies that exist today.
They are all efforts,
Some made by
Very intelligent people,
To explain things
Apart from the true God.
God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5). It is not many wise or noble according to the world that come to the truth, but rather those the world considers foolish and simple (1 Corinthians 1:20-30).
In verse 23, Paul gives an example common to his age of this foolishness. They “exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.” They descended into idolatry. In that time, it was the blatant idolatry that included the idols themselves that represented the conclusions of their foolish thinking. I am going to expand on idolatry tomorrow since Paul speaks of it again in verse 25. For now, just consider the foolishness of the idea of exchanging the glory of the incorruptible God for an image of a corruptible thing.
We would all have to agree that is stupid to claim that the qualities that belong to one thing actually belong to something that is the opposite. What would you say to someone that tried to enter his dump truck into the Indy 500 race? Probably the same thing you would say to the guy who brought his Indy 500 racer to the gravel pit and wanted to haul gravel in it. What about the 7′ 6″ athlete who wanted to be a horse jockey, or the 4′ 2″ guy who wanted to try out for the NBA? What would you call someone that wanted to swap a 8,000 sq ft mansion overlooking the Hudson River for 500 sq ft cabin located in a Florida swamp? Would you exchange 10 lbs of gold bullion for 10 lbs of copper pennies? The items in these examples had something in common with each other, but the qualities of the items were extremely different. The sack of gold and the sack of pennies each weighed 10 pounds, but they were completely different in value.
So it is with the glory of
The incorruptible God
Verses everything else,
Yet men will exchange
The proper worship of God
In order to worship something else.
Paul sets the two in contrast by referring to God’s glory as “incorruptible” and the exchanged image as “corruptible.” They are opposite each other. The idea of incorruptible and corruptible is in reference to God as Creator contrasted with His creatures. God is immortal. Man and all creatures are mortal. God is not perishable. Man and all creatures are perishable. God is not subject to decay. Man and all creatures, indeed, all of creation, is subject to decay. As verse 25 states, man exchanges the worship of the Creator for the worship of that which is created. In the case here, it is not even the created things itself, but only its image. A representation of the created thing. It is a stupid thing to do, yet it is the common response of man. While the blatant forms of idolatry that Paul speaks of here are not as common in our own society, idolatry does exist in many forms in our society. We will look at some of those tomorrow. For today I want stress that . . .
This first step into evil is in
The suppressing of truth and
Replacing it with the foolish
Speculations of men.
It can result in blatant idolatry,
But it also results in
All sorts of philosophies
And false religions.
Paul will deal with some of those in specific in Chapter 2.
I have already pointed out Paul’s comment in 2 Corinthians 10:5 about, “destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God” through the proclamation of the truth. God is not impressed with those wise according to the things of this world, so we should not either. 1 Corinthians 3:19 tells us that “the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God.” Such vain speculations are also dangerous, so Paul also gave several warnings. In Colossians 2:8 he warned, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” Paul warned Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:20-21, “Guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly [and] empty chatter [and] the opposing arguments of what is falsely called ‘knowledge’ – which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith.”
Sadly, there are many who have a simple faith that fails when tested. For whatever reason, they profess faith in Jesus, but there are doubts, often hidden, that are brought to the surface when the foolish speculations of men are presented. The result is that many turn away from faith to skepticism and the wisdom of men when they finally hear something that they think gives credibility to their doubts. It is not that we need to fear the philosophies of men, but we do need to be prepared and on guard to deal with them and present the truth.
For example, liberal theologians have done their best to destroy faith in the God of the Bible by their claims that the Bible cannot be trusted and God is different than what the Bible presents. Their arguments can sound pretty good until you remember that the wisdom they are presenting is simply their own speculations, and when closely examined their conjectures prove to be silly. We should not believe people simply because they have a Th.D. or Ph.D. An academic degree denotes academic ability, not
Liberal theologians tell us Genesis 1 is a story, an analogy, a myth, or has hidden time gaps in it. Yet, even a cursory examination of the text finds that the time-period of a day is defined in the text as a sequence of a period of light and dark. They ignore the text and seek to destroy its meaning because their own speculations give greater weight to the musings of science philosophers who reject God than they do to God Himself. The real reason for their speculations is that the god they worship is not powerful enough to create everything in six solar days. However, the God of the Bible is.
Liberal theologians deny that Daniel wrote the book of Daniel because the prophecies in it are too detailed for someone to have written before the events happened. Therefore, someone else wrote Daniel hundreds of years later after the events had taken place. The real reason for their foolish speculations is that the god they worship does not know the end from the beginning. The God of the Bible does (Isaiah 46:10) and so can reveal it in prophecy before it happens.
Even though the evidence is against them, liberal theologians find all sorts of ways to try and deny the crucifixion, death, burial, and subsequent bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. The real reason for their speculations is that their god is not have the power or character to pay for our sins and conquer death. The God of the Bible does, and His promise is eternal life to all those believing in Christ.
Those who do not honor God
For who He claims to be
And give thanks to Him
Become futile in their thoughts
Resulting in foolish hearts
That are darkened.
They profess to be wise,
But they have become fools.
To answer my question at the beginning of the sermon . . .
Evil people are simply those
With evil minds and hearts
That put their thoughts
And desires into action.
The first step into evil
Is a refusal to honor
God as God and
Give Him thanks.
What direction are you stepping?
Man may be born dead in trespasses and sin (Ephesians 2:1) with their minds blinded by the devil so that they might not see the light of the Gospel (2 Corinthians 4:4), but man does not have to stay that way. You can change direction and step into the light. God has revealed Himself and all who will turn from their sin to faith in Jesus Christ will be saved. The Holy Spirit can then renew our minds so that we have the wisdom from above instead of the wisdom of this world. Christian, be sure you are walking in God’s wisdom and not mans.
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!