Man’s Slide Into Total Depravity – Unrighteousness in Idolatry, Part 3

Grace For The Journey

Yesterday we began to answer the question, “Where do evil men come from?”  The answer is that because of sin nature we inherited from Adam, all people begin life with a bent toward evil.  Ephesians 2:1 tells us that we were all “born dead in our trespasses and sin.”  This confirms that we have a sin nature with our own acts of rebellion against God.  We break the laws He has given us and do not keep His commandments.

Why then are some people more sinful than others?  Two reasons: 1) People tend to define sin according to our own standards, so what is judged as sinful may not actually be any more sinful than what they themselves are doing.  Paul will address this moral hypocrisy in Romans 2 when he deals with the moral unrighteous and the religious unrighteous; 2) There is a descent into depravity, and some people have simply descended farther down into it.  This descent is most clearly seen in the immoral
unrighteous which is the focus of our current study in Romans 1.

Romans 1:16-25 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.  Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might 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.”

Paul is writing to a mixture of Jewish and Gentile believers in Rome with his desire is to come to them in person and bring a ministry of the Word, but until he can, he presents to them a clear presentation of the Gospel and its ramifications so that they might understand it better themselves and then proclaim these truths to others.  

Romans is by far the most clear

Theological presentation

Of the Gospel of God

In all of Scripture.

Paul begins his presentation with a declaration of his own response to the Gospel.  Paul was not ashamed of the it.  He was afraid at times, but he would not hide the truth from others regardless of what personal consequences it brought upon himself.  Paul understood what the Gospel is and what it does.  It is the power of God unto the salvation of all who are believing without regard to ethnic heritage, and it
displays the righteousness of God in His justification of those who believe in Jesus Christ.  The righteous live by faith.

But the gospel cannot be comprehended without a clear understanding of the natural state of mankind being under God’s righteous condemnation.  That is why Paul begins his explanation of the Gospel by proving that all men are unrighteous before God.  This includes the immoral unrighteous (1:19-32), the moral unrighteous (2:1-16), and the religious unrighteous (2:17-29).  None are righteous, nor are there any that seek God on their own initiative (Romans 3:10-12).  Everyone in the world are guilty before God and He is righteous in His wrath against all ungodliness and unrighteousness.  

The point of Paul’s discussion will be

That apart from Jesus Christ,

There is no hope for man.

The natural course of man is to suppress the truth that God has revealed.  God has placed a certain knowledge of Himself within the hearts of all men and He has displayed certain aspects of His attributes in what He has made in creation.  We looked at this in the last couple of blogs.  

  • The power of God is displayed in the various natural phenomena.  
  • His immensity is displayed in the size of the universe.  
  • His goodness is manifested in His provision for all life.
  • His justice is seen in the evidence of His wrath.
  • His precision, intelligence, and complexity is displayed in such things as the precision of the universe, the design of life and the structure of DNA.

What God has created is more than enough evidence, yet man willingly suppresses the knowledge God has given to him and displayed in everything He has created so that men are left without excuse for their refusal to seek Him.  This is an important point we need to understand clearly.  

The evidence is overwhelming,

But man purposely ignores the evidence.

The consequences of suppressing the truth

Is fully the responsibility of man.

God is fully justified in His condemnation

Of ungodly and unrighteous man.

Paul describes the descent of man into depravity here in chapter 1.  We examined the first step in this descent yesterday.  

What is that first step?  

Verse 21 tells us –

It is when man turns away

From what he already knows

About God and does not honor

And give thanks to God

For Who He is as the Creator.

Man should glorify God with thanksgiving, but instead he turns away from the truth.  This brings on the second step. 

The musings of man

In his own mind

Apart from the truth.

When the truth is abandoned, then there is no option left except vain speculations which in turn will invariably lead to a foolish and darkened heart.  In saying that the truth is abandoned, it does not mean that there is not some truth in some of the ideas that man comes up with, but when truth is mixed with error, then the result can only be error.  If you mix a color in with white paint, you no longer have white paint.  If you mix poison in pure water, the water is now poisonous.  

Truth plus error equals error.  

Man is not immediately

As bad as he can get,

But because he has turned

Away from the truth,

He will continue to get worse

And has no hope of improving

Without divine intervention.

The third step down for man is becoming proud about his own futile speculations. Professing to be wise, man becomes a fool.  The degree of his foolishness is directly related to the degree that he has suppressed the truth.  Paul illustrates the utter foolishness of man that was common in his own time in verse 23.  They exchanged the proper glory that belong to God who is incorruptible, that is, God cannot degrade or perish, for the glorification of images of creatures God created.  Creature that do corrupt, degrade, and perish.

Why The Concern For Idolatry?

Idolatry is a very serious matter no matter what form it takes.  We do not live in a society in which the blatant worship of such images as described here is practiced, yet, there is pagan idolatry in our society and the secular versions are rampant.  Paul pointed out specific types of creatures whose images where made and worshiped in ancient world. These idols included those made to look like a man in some form, those made to look like birds, those made to look like four footed animals, and those made to look like “creeping things.”  The Greek word here is the root for what we translate as “the study of reptile” (herptology), but the idea here included all those animals that “creeped” as
opposed to those animals that “walked on four legs.”  It is often translated as serpent.

The Greek and Roman gods were portrayed in idols that were of human form – Zeus, Athena, Apollo, Aphrodite, Ares, etc.  Somewhere a mixture of the worship man and animal came into practice, such as Pan.  The Egyptian pantheon of gods were represented with human torsos and human or animal heads.  Ra had the head of a hawk. Hathor, the goddess of love and laughter, was given the head of a cow.  Anubis had the head of a jackal.  Mut was vulture headed.  Thoth was ibis headed and Sobek had the head of a crocodile.  The same was true of the Canaanite deities.  Dagon was half man and half fish.  Amulets made in the image of various animals would be used to represent the various deities.

The idols themselves were nothing.  The prophets often mocked those who worshiped idols because of the very apparent silliness of it.  In Isaiah 40:18-26 the prophet questions them, “To whom then will you liken God?  Or what likeness will you compare with Him?  [As for] the idol, a craftsman casts it, a goldsmith plates it with gold, and a silversmith [fashions] chains of silver.  He who is too impoverished for [such] an offering selects a tree that does not rot; He seeks out for himself a skillful craftsman to prepare an idol that will not totter.  Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  Has it not been declared to you from the beginning?  Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?  It is He who sits above the vault of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.  He [it is] who reduces rulers to nothing, Who makes the judges of the earth meaningless.  Scarcely have they been planted, scarcely have they been sown, scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth, but He merely blows on them, and they wither, and the storm carries them away like stubble.  ‘To whom then will you liken Me That I should be [his] equal?’ says the Holy One.”

In short, God is mocking them.  Their idols have to be stabilized with chains or carefully made so they do not fall over.  What kind of god is that compared to the living God?  In Isaiah 46:5-7 the prophet adds, “To whom would you liken Me, snd make Me equal and compare Me, that we should be alike?   Those who lavish gold from the purse and weigh silver on the scale hire a goldsmith, and he makes it [into] a god; they bow down, indeed they worship it.  They lift it upon the shoulder and carry it; they set it in its place and it stands [there.]  It does not move from its place.  Though one may cry to it, it cannot answer; it cannot deliver him from his distress.”

In other words, you expect your gods to deliver you, yet they are idols with so little power that they have to be carried from place to place.  How then can they be compared to the living God who is so powerful that He knows even the end from the beginning. 

The most direct passage on the foolishness of idol worship is Isaiah 44:9-20, “Those who fashion a graven image are all of them futile, and their precious things are of no profit; even their own witnesses fail to see or know, so that they will be put to shame.  Who has fashioned a god or cast an idol to no profit?  Behold, all his companions will be put to shame, for the craftsmen themselves are mere men.  Let them all assemble themselves, let them stand up, let them tremble, let them together be put to shame.  The man shapes iron into a cutting tool, and does his work over the coals, fashioning it with hammers, and working it with his strong arm. He also gets hungry and his strength fails; he drinks no water and becomes weary.  [Another] shapes wood, he extends a measuring line; he outlines it with red chalk.  He works it with planes, and outlines it with a compass, and makes it like the form of a man, like the beauty of man, so that it may sit in a house.  Surely he cuts cedars for himself, and takes a cypress or an oak, and raises [it] for himself among the trees of the forest.  He plants a fir, and the rain makes it grow.  Then it becomes [something] for a man to burn, so he takes one of them and warms himself; he also makes a fire to bake bread.  He also makes a god and worships it; he makes it a graven image, and falls down before it.  Half of it he burns in the fire; over [this] half he eats meat as he roasts a roast, and is satisfied.  He also warms himself and says, ‘Aha! I am warm, I have seen the fire.’  But the rest of it he makes into a god, his graven image.  He falls down before it and worships; he also prays to it and says, ‘Deliver me, for Yu are my god.’  They do not know, nor do they understand, for He has smeared over their eyes so that they cannot see and their hearts so that they cannot comprehend.  And no one recalls, nor is there knowledge or understanding to say, ‘I have burned half of it in the fire, and also have baked bread over its coals. I roast meat and eat [it.]  Then I make the rest of it into an abomination, I fall down before a block of wood!’  He feeds on ashes; a deceived heart has turned him aside. And he cannot deliver himself, nor say, ‘Is there not a lie in my right hand?’”

The idolater who did understand the outward appearance of utter silliness in what they were doing could counter that they were not worshiping the idol itself, but what the idol represented.  That may be true enough, but what did the idol represent?  It could only represent one of two things.  First, as Paul points out here, it is an image that expresses the thoughts, desires, and purposes of the man.  They have given themselves over to their own futile speculation with the result being idolatry.  Man’s pride moves him to trust in himself rather than in the God that created him.  Man’s idols are really expression of self-worship.  That is, the worship of what man himself concluded from his own reason instead of what God has revealed.

However, there is another aspect of idolatry that is dangerous.  Since man ends up worshiping according to his own understanding instead of God’s revelation, he opens himself up to be further blinded by the demonic.  Paul comments in 1 Corinthians 10:20 that the gentile sacrifice to their idols was actually a sacrifice to demons.  What begins as man’s worship of what he has concluded from his own futile speculations becomes empowered by the demonic which further chains him to his foolishness.  Is there power in animism, idolatry, and the various forms of witchcraft?  The answer is yes.  There is demonic power, and it is extremely dangerous for the non-Christian.  But for those of us who are saved, we need not be afraid of it, because “greater is He who is in [us] than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).  We need not fear the devil, his demonic host, or those that are controlled by them.  All the believer needs to do is submit to God and resist the devil, and the devil will flee from us (James 4:7).

We must be careful at this point to understand that idolatry exists in our own society just as much as it did in the ancient world even if it is not as blatant as it was then or still is in other parts of the world.  There are those who have idols in their homes here in America.  The combination of the arrival of so many people from various nations from around the globe at a pace in which they are not assimilated into American culture plus the rise of multi-culturalism in which all cultures are considered to be equal, has resulted in it not being such a rare event to go to someone’s home in which there is an altar for the worship of some deity.  There could be a statue there, or it might just be a picture of some sort, but in either case it is blatant idolatry.  Just as is the worship of movie stars, musicians, athletes, sporting events, jobs, and other things that we make our “god.”

There are also those that are pantheists who worship nature.  The Gia, or Mother-Earth, movement is part of this.  You may not find them bowing before a tree, or praying to a wolf to help them with their problems, but they treat plants, animals, and rocks with the reverence that belongs to deity, for they believe that they all contain god.  That is the heart of idolatry, as Paul states in verse 25, whether there is an image or not.  They exchange the truth for a lie and worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator.

The heart of idolatry

Is not the idol itself,

But the turning away

From the truth

To embrace a lie.

It is turning from the Creator

To what has been created.

The word for “worship” in verse 25 is a different word from “honor” in verse 21.  “Honor” means to “glorify, magnify, and praise.” “Worship” means to “give reverential awe” or “honor religiously.”  Paul also adds here the concept of serving the created thing. “Serving” here is “religious service.”  We get our word “liturgy” from this word.  In blatant idolatry the idol represents a god who is glorified and praised.  There would also be a proscribed manner in which the idol was to be served.  In secular idolatry, there is no deity per se to praise, but there are many things that substitute for God which are given reverential awe and honored with life spent in service to it or them.

How else does such idolatry exhibit itself in our society?  An obvious one is worship of evolution by many scientists.  They would argue that they do not worship it, for they claim to be scientists.  But they do give the idea reverential awe, honor it religiously, and spend their lives promoting it.  Their world view is controlled by it, and to it all other ideas must submit, regardless of the actual facts.  For them, evolution is a religion, not a scientific hypothesis (evolution does not qualify as a theory by definition since it is
not testable). 

For others, it is wealth.  They would not say they worship money, but they give reverential awe to wealth and give greater honor to those who possess it, while seeking wealth out for themselves as their greatest quest in life.

Other forms of materialism certainly follow in the same category as wealth.  It could be something other than money and stock portfolios, but the bottom line is that there is something that they honor and spend their life on it a religious manner.  As one man described it, “Idols exist today in many garages – Mustangs, Impalas, Sting Rays, Eagles, Cougars, Jaguars, etc.”  Others treat their homes or some collection in the same way.  The line has been crossed into materialistic idolatry any time the acquisition
or maintenance of the thing is more important to you than the active service of God.  

A simple way to assess this

Is to compare the time and

Finances you spend on them

As opposed to your

Worship and service of God.

The same can be said for other modern idols such as fame and power.  They are not material, but the quest for them is religious with some folks.  Their lives center on gaining fame or power.  Many of the athletes do their best to compete at something they enjoy, but there are others in which their sport has become their god, and being the best at it is everything to them.  In only a few years, their aging bodies will no longer allow them to compete.  What then of their god and their purpose in life?  But perhaps the
same can be said of some sports fans whose lives seem to revolve around some team. Again, a simple test to see if an interest or a hobby has become a god is to compare the amount of time and finances you spend on it compared to your worship and service of God.

The apostle John closes his first epistle with the proclamation, “And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding, in order that we might know Him who is true, and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ.  This is the true God and eternal life,” and then the warning, “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.”  This ending seems a bit strange, especially since 1 John is largely written to correct gnostic ideas that were already rising within the church, until you understand
that there are many different forms of idolatries.  

The heart of the problem

With all of them is that

They are given the

Reverence and service

That properly belongs to God.

They exchange the truth for a lie.

What Is The Consequence Of idolatry?  

In verse 25, Paul points back again at this reverence and service to idols to explain God’s action of judgement in verse 24.  Man exchanged the glory of the incorruptible
God for the images of corruptible things.  Man exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served created things instead of the blessed, eternal Creator.  God’s judgement upon men is to give them over to the lusts of their hearts in uncleanness to the dishonoring of their bodies in them.

Three times in the chapter the same judgement is given, though each time it is to something worse . . . 1) God gives them over to the “lusts of their hearts” Verse 26); 2) In verse 26, God gives the over to “degrading passions;”  3) In verse 28, God gives them over to “a depraved mind.”

We tend to take God’s care and protection of us for granted even though if He removed it, we would all be destroyed, for in Him all things hold together (Colossians 1:17).  The truth of it is that it is God’s restraining hand that keeps us from becoming as evil as we could be.  This is God in judgement moving back His restraining hand and yielding to let the person get their own way.  This is not a total abandonment, for it is done in stages. The desire is that the pain that comes as a result of their foolishness will cause them to turn, but when they do not turn, the hand is moved father back and the person is allowed to fall farther into sin with its consequences.

At this level of descent into evil, God gives the person over to the “lusts of their hearts to impurity.”  Several Bibles translate this in a narrow sense of sexual immorality, but the word is not so narrow.  It means “to be unclean or impure.”  We think of “heart” as the seat of emotion, but the Greeks and Hebrews used “heart” as a reference to the seat of mind and will.  Though the word for “lust” here is often associated with sexual immorality, it really only means “strong desire.”  God is letting them pursue their strong desires that exist in their minds to do things that are unclean.  This would include sexual immorality, but it would also include all that would be impure and unholy.  The consequences of impurity shows itself in the dishonor of the body.  If you eat impure food, you get sick.  If you abuse drugs, your body suffers.  If you are sexually immoral, you sin against your own body (1 Corinthians 6:18) and risk many diseases as well as suffer emotional trauma.  But impurity leads not just to physical consequences, for Paul states here that the consequence is “dishonoring.”  The body will be treated shamefully, without honor.  The shameful treatment of the human body is something our society has become accustomed to.  We have gotten use to the shameful exposure of the human body in film, television, books, magazines, billboards, and in public.  Some people flaunt and expose themselves because they are proud of how they look.  They want to be noticed by others, without even being aware that it is to their own shame. Others do it for money or fame.  Still others, like the woman in Proverbs 7, do it to entice the naive into greater sin.  The consequences of it multiply as people become hardened and then treat each other as pieces of flesh to be exploited for personal gain instead of as humans made in the image of God.  Prostitution and pornography are not victimless crimes for they lead to all sorts of physical, sexual, mental, and emotional abuse.  There are also the children who are the victims of abortion as the adults seek to escape from the consequences of their sin.

As I stated yesterday, the manner in which men treat one another will be in direct accordance with how they view God.  Those that honor God and give thanks to Him will treat other humans with dignity and respect because man is made in the image of God. Those who will not honor God or give Him thanks, but give reverence to and serve what is created, will dishonor, exploit and abuse other humans because they believe that there is nothing special about man and there is no judge to hold them accountable.

But there is a Creator and He is a judge who will hold all men accountable.  He is righteous in His wrath against all ungodliness and unrighteousness, even when it is revealed in abandoning man to his own sinfulness and its consequences.  Man is under His just condemnation.  The Good News is that God has also provided a means of salvation from sin through faith in Jesus Christ.

Those of you walking in faith with Jesus Christ have a wonderful message to proclaim. There is salvation from sin and its consequences through faith in Jesus Christ.  Those of you who are not walking with Jesus are on a path that leads ever downward into depravity.  You don’t have to continue on that path another day.  Talk with someone who has a personal walk with Jesus and let them introduce you to life in Jesus

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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