Romans 1:18 - 3:20

The Subject of the first eight chapters of Romans is God's righteousness in justifying believers. However, before Paul speaks of the cross (the means by which God can save guilty man and still remain just) he must first establish the fact that there is no righteousness in man. He establishes the guiltiness of man by surveying three great classes of Adam's race, beginning with the least responsible and ending with the most responsible. Then he shows how all three are guilty, and are under the judgement of God.

 Class #1: The Uneducated Gentile
Romans 1:19-32

Gave them up. It is very important ot notice that is says “God gave them up” (v.24 + v.28) to do vile things, etc. as His governmental judgment (which always has to do with time), that He has not “given up” on them as far as eternity is concerned. The worst sinner can still be reached by the gospel of the grace of God. It isn’t apostasy like Heb. 6:4. Another point is that new birth really isn't taken up. Romans starts with a soul who feels his or her need of salvation. In Ephesians it starts with one who is “dead in sins” but in Romans it starts with a quickened soul who is “alive in sins”

Two great reasons why the heathen are under condemnation:
  1. For ignoring the witness of God in creation (vv.19-20)
  2. For perverting God’s glory by turning to idolatry (vv.21-25)
Three witnesses. The three broad sectors of the human race have had varying degrees of light; and thus varying degrees of responsibility. The uneducated man has the witness of creation (Rom. 1:20). The educated man has the witness of creation and the witness of an enlightened conscience (Rom. 2:15). The Jew has the witness of creation, the witness of conscience, and the witness of the Old Testament Scriptures (Rom. 3:2). Note: the uneducated man has a conscience, but because he lives in such moral and spiritual darkness his conscience does not work very well. The conscience is like a pair of calipers; it simply measures performance to a standard or datum. The issue with the heathen man is that his datum is almost non-existent!

A history of the Human race from God’s perspective. These verses cover the time period from the flood to the call of Abraham. Joshua 24:2 refers to that same general time. It was when things had dropped to their lowest point, that God called out a man, a family, and later a nation - for His name.

The Witness of Creation (1:19-20)

¶ 19 Because what is known of God is manifest among them, for God has manifested it to them, v.19 while they may not have ever read a Bible or heard of Jesus, every human of sound mind has heard the word of God in creation (Psa. 19:1-3). 

20a --for from the world's creation the invisible things of him are perceived, being apprehended by the mind through the things that are made, both his eternal power and divinity, -- v.20a The term “Godhead” should be translated “Divinity”. The limited revelation of God in creation does not reveal the three Persons of the Godhead, but it does reveal the existence of a supreme, supernatural Being. The word “world” is 'cosmos' in the Greek. It literally means “order” and it indicates that the creation has an orderly design to it. The witness of creation tells man that God exists, but also tells man certain “invisible” things about God:
  1. "His eternal power” – the Creator must have infinite power
  2. "His eternal divinity" – the Creator must be a divine Person, and ought to be regarded by His creatures as such; i.e. as morally and judicially superior.

The emphasis in Romans is on his power and superiority to man, but from other scriptures we learn that the creation witnesses additional attributes of God:

  1. God's wisdom; that He is “infinite in understanding” (Psa. 4-5)
  2. God's goodness; that He is impartial and kind to all His creatures (Acts 14:17).
20b so as to render them inexcusable. v.20b The witness of creation is limited, but it is enough to make man responsible.

Result #1: Degraded Theology (1:21-23)

vv.21-23 Man did not start out depraved; there was a process to his degradation. When the eight souls got off the ark they knew God – as a God who judges sin. What happened to that knowledge? It was gradually lost. These verses explain how man got so low.

¶ 21 Because, knowing ['ginosko'] God, (1) they glorified him not as God, (2) neither were thankful; (3) but fell into folly in their thoughts, (4) and their heart without understanding was darkened: 22 (5) professing themselves to be wise, (6) they became fools, 23 (7) and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into the likeness of an image of corruptible man and of birds and quadrupeds and reptiles. v.21 They began with a “knowledge” of God; but it was “ginosko” or outward, objective knowledge; c.p. with "epi-gnosis" in v.28. They never knew Him inwardly. Man needs an object to worship; and so he made himself idols. Man's thoughts of God steadily declined. The image dropped from “man” → “birds” → “quadrupeds” → “reptiles”. There is no record of idolatry before the flood. The first recorded mention of it is in Job 31:26-27. Initially, they make the idols like themselves; often with cruel, angry faces.

Seven steps downward:

  1. They refused to recognize God’s deity
  2. They were unthankful of God's goodness
  3. They began to speculate about God
  4. They lost the little knowledge they had of God (see Eph. 4: 18)
  5. They were lifted up in intellectual pride
  6. They became illogical as to their theology (see Psalm 115:4-8)
  7. They turned to idols as objects of their worship (worshiping demons, 1 Cor. 10:20).

Result #2: Degraded Morality (1:24-27)

24 Wherefore God gave them up also in the lusts of their hearts to uncleanness, to dishonour their bodies between themselves: v.24 This second result is part of God’s governmental judgment for turning away from the knowledge of God in creation. It refers to the sin of homosexuality. God let their fallen sin-natures have control over their sexual activities, and they degraded themselves.

25 who changed the truth of God into falsehood, and honoured and served the creature more than him who had created it, who is blessed for ever. Amen. v.25 Showing that moral degradation is the direct result of turning away from the knowledge of God. Specifically, it is the result of (1) “changing" or turning away from "the truth of God", and (2) “honoring/serving the creature” or turning to idolatry. At the end of v.25 we get a short doxology "God, who is blessed for ever. Amen." It is almost like the theme is so dark that Paul must vindicate God before proceeding!

26 For this reason God gave them up to vile lusts; for both their females changed the natural use into that contrary to nature; 27 and in like manner the males also, leaving the natural use of the female, were inflamed in their lust towards one another; males with males working shame, and receiving in themselves the recompense of their error which was fit. vv.26-27 It is interesting that God never connects a person’s identity with homosexuality, only with the sin. When a person becomes characterized by the sin, God calls them “sodomites” (I Tim. 1:10) in the same way He calls someone characterized by drunkenness a “drunkard” (1 Cor. 5). Satan has made a successful attack (since 1860’s) of society forcing people to identify with a certain sexual orientation. This causes Christians who may have same-sex attraction to give up on moral purity, when in reality their lusts emanate from the same sinful nature that all natural men have. What they need to hear is the truth of Romans; i.e. God has a way of deliverance. Another point is that while this catalog is for sins of unbelievers, the flesh is capable of the same things in believers; c.p. with the catalog in Galatians.

Category Sins against…  Romans Galatians
moral our bodies  Rom. 1:24-27 Gal.5:19
spiritual God  Rom. 1:21-23 Gal. 5:20a
social fellow man  Rom. 1:28-32 Gal. 5:20b-21a

The solemn consequence of homosexual behavior is referred to here as "the recompense of their error which was fit". When the order of nature is violated (v.25), then there is a natural consequence. Possibly this is a reference to A.I.D.S. which is prevalent among the homosexual community.

Result #3: Degraded Social Behavior (1:28-32)

28 And according as they did not think good to have God in their knowledge ['epi-gnosis'], God gave them up to a reprobate mind to practise unseemly things; v.28 The third result of turning away from the knowledge of God in creation is that God let their fallen natures have control of their actions, resulting in sins against their fellow men, such as violence and injustice. A “reprobate mind” is a mind void of moral discernment. It isn’t that their consciences malfunctioned, but that they refused the little bit of light they did have (creation), such that the positive effect of their conscience was severely dampened. However, this word 'epi-gnosis' is much stronger than 'gnosis' (v.21). They did have an outward intellectual knowledge, but they gave up an inward knowledge of conviction (recognition).

29 being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, malice; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil dispositions; whisperers, vv.29-31 A listing of the deeds that depraved man is guilty of practicing. There are twenty-one in all. “Fornication” is not really in this list (a translation error) because the previous series of verses have already addressed that. These verses are dealing with anti-social sins… hurting others. Fornication is against our own bodies (1 Cor. 6:18).

30 back-biters, hateful to God, insolent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, v.30 Note that disobedience to parents is especially wicked (even compared to murder). It would indicate the beginning of a downward course.

31 void of understanding, faithless, without natural affection, unmerciful; 32 who knowing the righteous judgment of God, that they who do such things are worthy of death, not only practise them, but have fellow delight in those who do themvv.31-32 They became "void of understanding" but they still did have a conscience; which is never completely silent. The only understanding they had of God was from witnessing "the righteous judgment of God"; i.e. His government executed on open sin, perhaps like v.27.

Two added facts that show the total depravity of man are given in vv.31-32:
  1. They know the consequences of these sins, but are too fascinated by them to stop. To continue is entirely illogical, but they still proceed.
  2. They take pleasure in watching others do those deeds. A man’s mind has a higher capacity than his body, so he delights in others sins. In a culture influenced by Christianity, certain deeds might be unacceptable, but Satan has provided video recordings of these deeds “for your viewing pleasure”. A virtual world has been created (video games, movies) where the laws of the land and the government of God don’t apply. People love those environments because they can be completely lawless.